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Making it real for 4th of July

We are nearing July 4th. Independence Day. America’s Birthday. Freedom Day. It’s a time of celebration, reflection and thankfulness for America being the great nation that she is and for remembering all that it has taken, and still takes for us to have the privileges, freedoms and rights that we have. Starting from the very beginning of this nation America has been built and sustained on the visions and sacrifices of individuals and their families. (Speaking of which--Missing you Maleah Cousineau)

With each passing day our nation is losing part of our heritage with the loss of our World War II veterans. Papa was a WWII veteran in the Navy. Here are some memories he left behind about his time on the INTREPID AIRCRAFT CARRIER in the south Pacific during WWII. In an effort to be as authentic as possible I am using his exact spelling and grammar. Some of his writing is difficult to read so please forgive me for any errors I make in the transcription of his writing.

In May of 1943 I was inducted into the US Navy. (20 years old). I spent 8 weeks at Bainbridge, Md Boot Camp. The next 2 months was at Norfolk, Va taking gun and fire schools. We stayed in the barricks for two months training and waiting for the ship the USS Intrepid to be commissioned. Went aboard the ship and was getting ready to head to the South Pacific. Hazel got sick and was put into the hospital and I got a three day pass to go home. Didn’t get back for 5 days. Ship was gone on a trial run for 3 weeks when I got back. I was put in the brig till the ship come back. This was a big fence in lot about 15 acres with building to stay in. Couldn’t go outside. I was a mess cook for 3 weeks till ship came back.

Went aboard ship and headed for South America on training cruise. We later went through Panama Canal leading for San Deago, California. While going through the canal they lost control of the ships steering and ran into the rock while making a curve in the canal. Stopped in San Diago. They had no drydock big enough for our ship. Went onto San Francisco to dry dock. Got a 15 day leave while the ship was being repaired.

Left for Hawaii Islands. Spend about 2 weeks loading ship in Honulula. We then left heading for Guam and Truck Islands. After 2 weeks or more of bombing the island we was hit with a torpedo dropped from a Jap plane at 12:03 am. Ship was damaged bad in the machine room. 3 screws out of 4 that powered the ship were knocked out, it also tore the rudder that stears the ship. We used lumber we had stored on the ship to build a makeshift sale & rudder on flight deck. Took two weeks to get back to Honalula for repairs. Got minor repairs there then came to San Francisco for major repairs.

Then back to the Pacific. We worked some small islands. Our next big job was Okanaua. This was 2 to 3 months bombing from the carrier before the army went ashore. There was a big loss of Army and Marines at Okowana. Later we was got hit with two suicide planes. Later was hit with another Jap suicide plane at the Phillipine Islands. We lost 112 men when the two planes hit us. I made it through without a scratch. (This part Papa told us about but it wasn’t included in his writing—When the suicide plane attacked the pilots were in their briefing room below deck. The concussion of the torpedo actually caused their internal organs to explode. They were dead but did not have any external injuries. The ones that survived carried the men up to the flight deck and laid them out and began trying to provide CPR to revive them because they did not look as if they were injured. The sailors were finally ordered by their commanding officers to stop the resuscitation efforts. These men were buried at sea).

Lots of damage to the flight deck. Back to San Francisco for repairs. I got a short leave this time. 5 days getting home, 5 days at home, 5 days getting back to ship. We headed for Phillipine Islands, another long job bombing. We had to back away every 2 weeks to take on food fuel planes. Our freight ship wouldn’t come in range of Jap planes to load us. After 2 to 3 months we was hit with another suicide plane. Had to come back for repairs again.

We was some 2000 miles from Japan Main island heading for bombing the main island when the first atomic bomb was dropped. We was ordered to hold back. We ran around in a big circle for days until the next atomic bomb was dropped. The Japs gave up and we went on to Japan and ankered the ship in the bay and went ashore. We stayed in the bay for 3 weeks. We went ashore every other day. Wasn’t much to see. Most all the building was tornup or burned down. There was lots of people, very little food. They all had pockets full of money but nothing to spend it on. We sold them Hershey choc. Squares for $5.00 for a 5 cent box.

I left Japan on a troop ship. We stayed 12 days on the troop ship before we left for Seattle, Washington. It took 3 weeks to get to Seattle, stayed 7 days before we left on a train for Charleston, SC. Another 7 day trip. After 3 days in Charlston I got the papers I had been looking for. I road the trailways bus home. It was over. Arrived home Dec. 6, 1945, some 31 months later.

We most often take for granted what people in the military experience. We don't really even think about too much. But it's good to take time and let it be real to us. It's difficult to imagine what this must have been like for a young 20 year old that had never been out of the mountains of western North Carolina. Leaving behind a young wife and infant daughter. Facing the unknown and then facing the terrors that became part of the known. Did he cry himself to sleep at night with the rocking of that huge ship? Did he laugh and joke with men that were alive one day and gone the next? Did his heart long for the lush green of the mountains and the freshness of the tumbling streams? Did he close his eyes in the quiet of the morning and see Granny's smiling face, feel his mother's hands gentle on his shoulders?

And then--it was over-- and coming back to the mountains to live his life. How did those experiences impact him, what influences did they have in forming the man I knew and loved, The man I shared a birthday with, the man who loved gospel music and pitching horseshoes, who taught us the value of a hard day's work, that was able to take the ideas in his mind and turn them into reality. Did he ever go back in his mind to those days in the Pacific, watching fighter planes catapult off the flight deck not knowing if those men would make it back or not? Did he hear loud noises and his heart race as his mind went back to seeing a Jap suicide plane coming in? Did he dream about standing on the flight deck and guiding a fighter plane back to safety?

And even now in a different time there are men and women facing the same fears, the same unknowns, homesick and heartsick but sticking it out because it's what they do. Stepping up with bravery and dedication, enduring with perseverance and often pain, sacrificing the comforts we take for granted to make this world a better place. While we celebrate the 4th of July, they are living it out everyday to give us that privilege. So a great big old thank you to all the men and women serving this great country--past and present. God Bless You and God Bless the USA.

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