Dec. 7th 1941, the day that will be remembered by the whole world and especially to the Americans who were old enough to under stand that our country, our way of life and our very freedom, had come under attack with Japans bombing of Pearl Harbor.
After the great success of the Japanese forces destroying Pearl Harbor and most of the US Naval Fleet. The Admiral of the Japanese Naval Fleet said “I think all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant!”
Little did he know how true his words were. At that very moment the heroes we have come to know as the Greatest Generation stepped forward. They were just common folks, from all walks of life. They came from Farms, Small towns, Big Cities and Indian Reservations, with one uncommon determination, “Preserve our Freedom”.
My Father at the time was only 16 years old. His mother told him he was to young fight. He told her that the soldiers would need supplies, let me join the Merchant Marines. She new America, needed everyone to do what they could, and she could see in her young mans face, he needed to answer that call. She reluctantly signed the papers and my father became a Seaman for the US Merchant Marines. Neither one could know that the Merchant Marines would lose more men by percentage during the war, than any of the armed forces. 1 out of 26 Merchant Marines would die before the war was over.
News papers would only print, that one to two Merchant supply ships were hit every week, so that the enemy would not know the damage they had done. Truth was, we were losing on the average, 33 Merchant ships per week.
My Father sat in the galley of his first ship sipping on a black cup of coffee thinking about his two weeks of seamen school and was he really ready to go to sea. He had watched as the ship was loaded with military supplies and knew they would be sailing into the pacific somewhere, but didn’t know where. He had already heard rumors about Japanese subs torpedoing Merchant ships. It was Christmas eve and the ship’s radio was playing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as my father listen to the song, his thoughts turned to his parents and how long would it be before he saw them again, or if he ever would. Then came an announcement From the Captain over the ship’s radio, “We are shipping out in two days, anyone who lives close enough can spend Christmas at home”. Modesto was only 2 hrs from San Francisco, off that ship he flew with his eyes still misty, from the song that had him missing all his family, was now tears of joy to spend at lest one more Christmas with his folks. What a wonderful present.
My dads stories of sailing on the high seas, or sailing the south pacific was never about the war. He would always make it more colorful and adventurist for us kids. He sailed the Philippians, Hawaiian Islands, and most the islands of the of the south pacific. My uncles called dad Romeo, because of the picture here with a follow sailor and a couple of native girls from the Philippine Islands. Every time my dad would do something that he thought was skillful or masterful, he would always say “I learn that while sailing in the south seas”. When he would start off with “Now when I was sailing in the south seas”, We knew a big story was coming! Although he never went back to sea after the war. You could tell that he loved the sea, his eyes would smile and have a sparkle every time he would tell us of some adventure on the High Seas, or recite one of his sea fairing poems that he loved.
I was a grown man, married and had children of my own. When I found out where my dad had really sailed during the war. He was once in a convoy of battle ships sailing from Hawaii to Iwo Jima. Mounted on his ship the Cape Georgia were 50 caliber machine guns, to fire at Japanese Zeros fighter planes. They sailed at night with what they called a black out, no running lights, no ship lights and no one could even smoke on deck. A lighted cigarette could be seen for miles and give their position away. When they anchored off the shores of Iwo Jima, days before the invasion. The Naval Battle Ships began shelling the island. My dad said ” We had anchored to close and when the shells exploded on the shore, sand and rocks hit our ship”. The captain ordered to raise anchor and move the ship further off shore. The U.S. Navy shelled the island night and day. Dad remembered standing watch on deck at night, you could see the flash of the Battle Ships Cannons a few miles off shore, in a few seconds, you would hear boom, then hear the whistling of the shells flying over your head and the wind from the shells making your bell-bottom sailor paints flap, followed by the explosion on the island. You stood there praying, none of the shells fall short.
They hit that island so long and hard that there was not a blade of grass or a bush left. How could anyone still be alive on the island. The Japanese knew they would be invaded, so they dug tunnels all under the island. This island was crucial for the Japanese and us. It had a landing strip that could fuel our planes or the Japanese Zeros.
Then started the land invasion. My dad watched as the landing barges hit the beaches just in front of his ship. The shelling from the Japanese was so heavy, that they had to pull back and start landing farther up the beach. He watched as hundreds of soldiers fell on the beaches, as the waves washed over their lifeless body’s. U.S. Marines invaded Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, approximately 70,000 U.S. Marines and 18,000 Japanese soldiers took part in the battle. In thirty-six days of fighting on the island 1/3 the size of Manhattan, nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines were killed. Another 20,000 wounded. Marines captured 216 Japanese Soldiers; the rest were killed in action. Nearly 25,000 men died on this small island. It had been one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history.
After the battle, Iwo Jima served as an emergency landing site for more than 2,200 B-29 bombers, saving the lives of 24,000 U.S. Airmen. Securing Iwo Jima and prepared the way for the largest battle in the Pacific: the invasion of Okinawa. Where my dads ship, the Cape Georgia, was headed for. He too, would be at Okinawa’s invasion.
“Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue” Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
Last and biggest of the Pacific island battles of World War II, the Okinawa campaign (April 1—June 22, 1945) involved the 287,000 troops of the U.S. Tenth Army against 130,000 soldiers of the Japanese Thirty-second Army. At stake were air bases vital to the projected invasion of Japan. By the end of the 82-day campaign, Japan had lost more than 77,000 soldiers and the U.S. combined military forces had suffered more than 65,000 casualties—including 14,000 dead. This was the beginning of the end for Japan.
My father was no John Wayne, no Clint Eastwood or even Autie Murphy, who was the most decorated soldier of WWII. He never received any metals or citations. The only thing that mattered to him was receiving letters from his mother. He could never remember what was in the letters, all that was needed, was what she would always finish every letter with, “Were praying for you son”.
President Roosevelt, prom-est veteran stat-est to all Merchant Marines who served in WW II, That promise died with him. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower put it, “When final victory is ours there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.” It was 1988 when by court order the Merchant Marines of WW II were finally Honored. When Dad was told that he could receive veterans stat-est, he said, no,“I was a AB Seaman, a U.S. Fighting Merchant Marine”. He was just a young boy, who like 1000’s, answered their country’s call, asking for nothing. These are the real heroes.
I never knew my father as a sailor, except for the story’s he would tell. I knew him only as a loving father and a man of God. Just a few years after returning from the war. He became an Ordained Minister. This month, May 20th 2015, he will be 88 years old and he is still preaching the gospel of Christ.
As the youngest of three children who are all proud of Him. I want to tell you Dad, “you are my biggest hero and have my highest respect and honor”!
When that day comes, many, many years from now when its your time to cross the Bar. I know you will be reciting your favorite sea fairing poem. And once again, set sail for the deep blue waters of the south pacific;
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a marry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
By John Masefield
“Let us all give thanks to those who never made it home, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom on Memorial Day”.
Thanks “Able Body Seaman Clifford Curten”