I grew up in Illinois. Before Pearl Harbor, me and my friends, we were all just guys. Things changed overnight. Guys became soldiers.
When I got out of school, there were three of us from my hometown who signed up. President Roosevelt had actually started drafting men in 1940, trying to build up the Army, because we knew the war was coming. It had to be a draft, because who wanted to march across Europe? So I joined the Navy.
I was sent to the Naval Air Station in Washington, D.C. They needed stenographers too, and the girl who became my dear wife had just graduated high school two weeks before. She signed up and came out to Washington and joined me. She arrived on June 26, and we were married on July 18, 1942.
I was assigned to the USS England, a destroyer. I'll never forget. It was February 14, 1944 — Valentine's Day. We steamed out of San Francisco Bay, and my wife was standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, holding our boy, watching us sail beneath them and out into the Pacific.
I was praying. First, praying she didn't drop him! Second, I was praying for their safety. We had no idea what would happen. But we were all doing what we had to do.
Out at sea, we would see the submarines come up from time to time. Then in May of '44, it was a beautiful day. About 2 in the afternoon, we felt something rumble under the ship. The captain came over the speaker and said “Gentlemen, we just sank our first sub.” Then he called us to battle stations, and we stayed there for 12 days. We sank six submarines in those 12 days — nothing like that had been done before.
In that time, I would think about what my wife was going through, sitting there in the dark in the air raid drills. They had blackout drills on the West Coast. Everything would be locked down. You had to keep the lights off. It must have been scary, sitting there alone with that baby.
After the war, I went back to my hometown of Aurora, Illinois and served on the fire department. I moved to Colorado in 1992, after I retired.
My son is 77 now, and I'm 97, but in my mind I'm still that young man looking up at that little baby on the bridge.
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