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Military Veteran Victor B. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Why did you go into the military?

I was 17 in 1943, a few years after World War II had started. All the boys in school were joining the service to defend their country. I decided I was going to go into the service. My father worked in a shipyard in Mobile, Alabama. I took a bus there and asked him to sign the papers allowing me to go in the military. He refused. Six months later, I asked him again. This time, he agreed.

I joined the United States Navy in 1943and shipped out to boot camp in Farragut, Idaho. We arrived at three in the morning and went to bed in civilian clothes. The next morning, we were given all the materials we needed to live there.


What was boot camp like?

Boot camp was 16 weeks long. Every day, we marched and drilled. I was only 17, so it wasn't very hard for me. I got through boot camp with flying colors. At the end everyone was given a choice of going to school or to sea. I chose to go to sea, so I was sent to Astoria, Oregon. I was assigned to a brand-new aircraft carrier. I stayed on the carrier from Astoria, to Tacoma, Washington, to San Francisco, and we came back to get the ship degassed and picked up more crew. We had almost 1, 000 people on the ship.


Did you enjoy what you had to do on the ship?

I was assigned to the deck division. I didn't particularly enjoy that, so after a while, when they put a notice on the bulletin board that they needed radio operators, I applied for that. I had to learn the international Morse code, which I did in six weeks. Within three or four months, I was promoted from Airman First Class to Petty Officer, Third Class Radioman. I had to work four hours on, and eight hours off, four hours on, and eight hours off.


Where did the ship travel?

We went to Alameda, California, right out of San Francisco, and picked up airplanes, pilots, and crew. Then we headed for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and arrived there in May. We were anchored right next to the remains of the USS Arizona. We stayed there about two months, going out on trial runs.

We were sent on our first mission in the Kwajalein Islands. The planes flew around the clock looking for submarines. The pilots were all inexperienced, but they worked together. Sometimes we would lose a plane when they tried to land. Every morning and every evening, everyone on the ship was called to go in to general quarters. Everyone wore a life jacket. I was assigned to a 20-mm anti-aircraft gun. I loaded it; someone else shot it.

One morning, as I opened the door to go to my battle station, a torpedo had been shot from a submarine at one of the other carriers. Everything that was on that ship was exploding: gasoline, ammunition, missiles. They lost 500 men.


What did you do when you weren't on duty?

We stood watches continuously. When you weren't on duty, you did what you wanted. I used to go up the ladder on the captain's bridge, where it was nice and warm, to write letters.


What was it like out there on open waters?

It was cold. I wasn't used to all that cold weather, but they gave us gear to stay warm. The radio shack was directly under the flight deck, so every time a plane would land, you would hear a "boom, boom. " We would never get too close to the islands with the aircraft carriers. We would go up and down for about 50 miles, and the planes would look for submarines. We sank four or five subs. Our pilots shot down a bunch of planes. They were good.

One day, I went with one of the mail carriers. The people on the islands were big as mules, I had never seen such big people. They respected us, though, and treated us with courtesy. Every time we would come to an island, we would get mail. They would get ropes and swing the mail from ship to ship. We never went on the islands, on foot. We would just look from the ship.

We seldom anchored because a submarine could be lurking anywhere. A still ship is a target. We just went back and forth. Our planes flew 24/7.

We saw a lot of sharks out there, too. They would come between the ships when we were refueling. These were big sharks! They must have been 20 or 30feet long.


How were you promoted? What were the requirements?

Well, rank wasn't very easy to make. People like me had to take the test. If you passed, your name would be submitted to Pearl Harbor. Promotions came every six months. They would give you so many points for this and for that. You would compete with the entire United States Navy. I only took the test once and didn't worry about it. I wasn't going to be in that long, so it didn't bother me not making rank.


Did you ever notice things that others did not?

Yes, in 1945, just at dusk one night, I saw these little old twin-engine bombers flying about 20 feet above the water. I was talking to one of the guys and said, 'Look at that, man! Look at that bomber. I wonder what it's doing flying; that's not one of our planes!'

When I said that, the plane crashed right into an aircraft carrier, through the hangar deck and flight deck. It sank in about 15 minutes. Lots of men were lost that day. That was the third ship I saw go down.

We were separated in two fleets. I was in one and there was another that would go back for ammunition, food, crew, planes, etc. We would switch off making trips back to Pearl Harbor. We used to refuel at sea all the time. You would get the mail when the tanker came to refuel us. You would also get movies. Every night you would have a movie on the hangar deck. Sometimes you would see a movie three or four times, but it was a movie.

In August 1945, we could see the big, big airplanes flying overhead. The B-17's and the B-29's would be on their way to bomb Tokyo from the landing fields on the islands.

Once we had a typhoon out there; a typhoon is the same as a hurricane. It sank three destroyers and damaged two aircraft carriers. It made our ship tilt so much that it took water in its smoke stacks. I thought we were going to die, but we came out all right. They never did find any survivors from the three destroyers.

In September, the Air Force dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We got the news a few days later, after everything had happened, and posted it so that everyone could read it. A few days after that we found out the war was over.

We were then sent to Korea to pick up troops to bring back to the States. Every time you go into battle, you get so many points. Once you had so many points, you could be discharged. I was called in to the orderly room and told, "Victor, you are being discharged when you get to the States. You have enough points and can go home. " So I got out and caught a train home to New Orleans. I got home a few days before Christmas and told my mother I was out of the service. For three months, I just took it easy.


Did you ever have any close calls?

We had many close calls. One day I was on duty in the radio shack right under the bridge. When a plane landed, I heard something go "ba-boom. " When I got off duty, I went up on the deck and talked to some of the people there and asked, "Hey, did something happen up here?"

"Yeah, something happened, "a guy said. "A bomb fell off one of the planes and hit the deck. A guy had to jam his hand in the propeller to stop it from revolving to keep that bomb from exploding. " There was a 500-pound bomb sitting on the deck, and a guy lost his hands saving the ship from it.

Every day, we would sit on the flight deck, and the pilots would bet about the planes coming in, "I bet you hed on't make it!" I've seen two or three planes go over the side, miss the flight deck, and not have enough power to get them up again, so they would go right in the water.

Once I was in the shower and I heard this big explosion. I ran to the flight deck with a towel around me. I saw a plane explode with the two guys in it: the gunner and the pilot. The gunner slept right across from me.

I saw a lot of people get killed. One person was blown off the flight deck, and a destroyer had to go pick him up. If you went over the side, they didn't stop that carrier. They would send a smaller boat to go get you. So they brought him back to the ship and the captain wanted to know why he was deserting the ship. But when you get 30 planes up there with their propellers on, there's a lot of wind, and you can't always keep your balance.

That's life aboard a carrier. That was a good ship! I didn't think I would like carriers, but that was a good ship to be on. The only bad part was they had boatswain's mates. They would write you up for everything. I stayed clear of those guys.


What were the uniforms like?

Every day, they put a bulletin out, called the plan of the day which told you what uniform to wear. Out at sea, you would wear dungarees and a hat, but they had to be clean. You put your name on your clothes, and when they came back from the laundry, they were in a big box. You had to have a neat locker. Everything had to be a special way.


When did you meet your wife?

I went into the service when I was 17 and came out when I was 21. I didn't meet Rose Jeanne until I was 25; she was 19. She had just graduated from Charity Hospital in New Orleans. I had gotten burned when I was fixing my car. I met her and she was more compatible with me than anyone I had met before. I went out with her and asked if she wanted to get married, and she said yeah. So we got married.

We worked together all our life, and this is why we have such a nice home.


What was your occupation after you got out of the service?

I got a job as a shoe salesman. I didn't particularly like it, but I did it for a while. Then I got a job as an insurance salesman, and I didn't like that either.

When I got married in 1950, I decided to join the Naval Reserves, where we went to drills on the weekends. Once I saw a guy I knew out at the lakefront. I asked what he was doing and he said, "Oh, I'm working as a radio operator at the Naval Air Station. So I talked to the chief and asked if he had any openings. He said no, but the next week I went back and said, "I need a job. " He finally hired me. I stayed at the Naval Air Station for seven years. When they moved, I joined the Air Force and didn't lose any rank.

The Air Force sent me to Morocco for a year. The radios weren't working there, but they needed a truck driver to drive to town every day. So I did that for six months. I enjoyed that.

After that, I decided to go on leave. I had 30 days coming to me, and it took me about a month to get to the Sahara Desert. Then I had to catch a plane to the United States. When I came back, I was assigned to Corswell Air Force base in Texas. I was assigned to a high-speed communications center. We'd get incoming messages and relay them. I made Staff Sergeant there.

After that, I was sent to Okinawa. If you go by yourself, it's a 30-month tour, if you take your family, it's a 36-month tour. Every weekend, I would look at houses there and ask if anyone was getting ready to go back to the States. I met a captain who wanted $3, 000 for his brand-new house. I wrote Rosie and told her I needed $3, 000 to buy the house. We came through and paid him the money. Rosie came with our three kids. As soon as Rosie got on the island, she got a job at the hospital. Within a year, we had paid off the $3, 000. We hired a maid for $15 a week who stayed at the house and did everything. She loved us.

After that tour, we went to Japan for 18 months. The kids and I used to ride the train at night while Rosie worked. You could ride the whole route for a quarter.

After that, I decided to go to Europe. I asked for this move, and the guy said, "You aren't ever going to get that!" I said, "Don't worry about what I'm going to get. You just put it in!" Six weeks later, it came back approved!

In Frankfurt, Germany, I worked at a relay station, and the chief I worked for had me promoted to Technical Sergeant.

Rosie worked at the hospital in Frankfurt, and between us, we took care of the kids. Our daughter Sheryl, the oldest, took care of the other kids. She was a great help.


What did you do for a living after you retired from th eAir Force?

I started with the courts in 1967 and worked there for 19years, retiring in 1986. I worked almost 40 years total for the government, and uh, I'm tired!

What do you enjoy doing now?

I enjoy cooking. I learned how to cook when I was 10 years old; my mother broke her back and was in bed for a year. She would dictate orders from the front of the house. There was a lot of screaming; she was good at it!

I had to feed my two brothers and my mother every day. There's nothing to cooking, it is easy. I've been cooking for over 60 years. I'm great.

That's about all I can think of, I mean, I'm healthy. As long as you've got your health, you've got everything. I've got a wonderful wife, and I've got three wonderful kids, and I've got three grandkids!Yuck!



This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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