At age 16 I quit my school activities in the 8th grade to earn money to help the family meet its many financial obligations and to feed all 9 of us. My action followed clear pattern that the oldest children with jobs would give most of their earnings to Mom and Dad to pay the bills. I already had a part time job at the A&P supermarket in Little Five Points when I left school. I was immediately promoted to dairy supervisor and a few weeks later to Assistant Manager. Opportunities at work were in abundance, even for a 16 year old like me, because most young men during the Spring of 1943 had been drafted or had volunteered to fight in WWII.
Shortly after my promotion I was contacted b the Fifth U.S. Civil Service Regional Office and offered a job a assistant messengers for a salary of $18,000 per year and I accepted. I liked working for the Commission and in a few months was promoted to Mail and File Clerk, GS-3 along with a nice salary raise. I was settling into my new job when it dawned on me how badly the U.S. was faring in WWII and how angry I was at the inhuman way Germany and Japan were treating us and most of the civilized world. My office was next to the U.S. Navy Recruiting Office and as I passed it several times each day, I became compelled to sign up.
I enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to Boot Camp in Bainbridge, Maryland. I didn’t know about the first secret at that time, but I did feel that my enlistment was a part of my reality: who I was, what I wanted to contribute to the world conflict. About four weeks into Boot Camp a special recruiting team came to interest us in joining them in The Navy CBs or Construction Battallion. These men touted the Seabees as the quickest way to see combat action and if we joined we would have a two week leave. The combined benefits were irresistible, so I accepted the offer.
Two weeks later I reported to duty at Camp Endicott, Rhode Island and began six weeks of advanced military and technological training. The 63rd Battallion finished this rigorous training and was shipped by rail to San Francisco, California. I remember the heat on the train forced us to soak our t-shirts with water and put them on our heads. What air conditioning? Our journey had just begun, however, from there-we boarded our ship (name?) and departed on a 30-day voyage to Manila on Luzon Island, The Philippines. Two days out from Manila, we heard the ship’s PA system announce that President Harry Truman had ordered our Air Force to drop an atomic bomb on Japan, and then the Japanese surrendered. We Seabees then learned that our Luzon assignment was to have been the first wave of an American invasion of the Japan to seize airports and seaports, secure and repair them if necessary to ready them for the next Americans to land and operate all facilities. By the grace of God, this did not happen, or you would not be reading this book right now. In any invasion at that time, fierce and ruthless Japanese warriors would have destroyed our American first responders.
Wow-we had won WWII and I was ready to go home! Wisely, our leaders decided to release us over a period of time rather than one giant dismissal. I was not eligible when those with longer service left. My previous assignment as a land based sailor no longer existed-and so I was assigned as Shipfitter 3rd class (equipment operator for cranes, bulldozers, etc.) The USS Valor ARS 238 was in drydock at the Naval facility in Long Beach, California when I first boarded her. We had repaired her and the crew was getting ready to leave the dry dock base and sail up to Puget Sound, Washington for permanent storage in our mothball fleet.
Oh my God, Sydney thought as she read “US Naval History in 1944″ and the stupefying feats of strength and valor that her grandfather had participated in. 150 Quonset huts in 5 hours! A hospital in five hours! One battalion deployed every other day for months! An airfield in two hours! Yes, he, Pop-Pop. She looked over at him, eyes closed, seated and looking almost gnome-ish: small (5, 1” short as her!), wizened, gasping for air as he slept, rattling snores almost choking him. The breathing was becoming irregular. How many years had it been? It had been at least four years since they had spent a Christmas together: a sad affair; the last one in Pop-Pop and Grammy’s home before the move to suburban Atlanta into an assisted living facility. Grammy had been in a nursing home recovering from a broken hip: poor Pop-Pop was rattling around in the four-bedroom home trying to make sense of his unwelcome bachelor life: refrigerated untouched leftovers from meals the girls had assiduously prepared, lots of Miller empties, his unmade twin bed littered with candy wrappers next to Grammy’s immaculately made twin.