Among the residents of Plantation Village in Wilmington are more than 90 World War II veterans. Here are four of their stories, excerpted from the book Answering the Call: A Story of Everyday Valor
By Becky Grogan, Kevin Maurer and Michael Maurer • Photographs by Michael Cline Photography
Roland Berube – Navy 1944-1946
I was on a destroyer for two-and-a-half years in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific.
I quit high school as a sophomore. This was in 1942. They had bombed Pearl Harbor — the damn Navy was almost destroyed there. We were losing the war on the Islands, and they were really killing us in the Philippines. I was 16 years old, and I just wanted to join the Navy. Well, my folks wouldn’t let me. They said I was too young. They wouldn’t let me until I was 17. I didn’t want to go to school any longer, so I got a job in a defense plant. Then when I got to be 17, in April of ’43, my folks still didn’t want to let me go. Finally, by November or December they said OK, but wait until year-end. So that’s what I did. I joined in January of 1944.
I liked the Navy. I went to boot camp in upstate New York. Then they sent me down to the Naval Operating Base in Norfolk Virginia.
The last night before our graduation, me and a friend went to a movie where we saw Edward G. Robinson in a picture called Destroyer. Now keep in mind, we’re 17 years old. We don’t know beans. The next day they got us all together to give us our assignments. They needed two guys to go on a destroyer — guess what we did? We walked right up.
We had a squadron of five destroyers, and during that time, the Germans were really giving us hell in their submarines. We would shepherd convoys. That went on for a while. Then we got orders to go to the Mediterranean for anti-submarine duty, because they were having a problem, and we had to take care of that problem.
They sent us back home and said they were going to convert us to destroyer minesweepers. So, my first photos of my ship, it has DD-635, but the next time, it was DMS-42. It’s still the same ship, USS Earle. We were now a squadron of destroyer minesweepers. We ended up sweeping mines in Tsushima Straits and Sasebo Harbor, which was the Royal Japanese Army home port, and the surrounding areas.
In April of 1946 we were sent back to California. We went under the Golden Gate Bridge, which was quite an experience because they had people on both banks as we came in.
“For me, going in the Navy was the best thing I ever did. They asked me to stay after the war and made all kinds of promises, but I had learned one thing — the guys that are eating in the officers’ quarters have an education. The guys that are chipping paint on the main deck don’t. I only had two years of high school. I went back and finished and then I went to college and graduated with a degree in mathematics.”
Susan Hollister – Navy Waves, 1943-1945
I grew up on a little farm near Scranton, Pennsylvania. We had two cows — just enough to make our own butter. My mother and I used to turn the paddle. We had pigs, chickens and some ducks. There was a creek behind our property, so the ducks were in the water over there and they’d come over. We had plenty to eat, even during the Depression in the 1930s. I was born in December of 1921, so I’ve lived through all of it and we survived beautifully. But I guess city slickers didn’t survive as well, since they didn’t have a cow to get their milk.
I joined the Navy in Scranton.
When I joined the Navy, I was sent to Philadelphia for my physical. I weighed only 100 pounds, so somebody told me to eat some bananas before I went in. I didn’t, but they took me anyway because I was healthy. Then we went to Hunter College in the Bronx in New York, and we had boot camp with the women Marines and the women Coast Guard. That was about a month. Then I was sent to the Iowa State Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I was there three months. From there I was assigned to Washington, D.C.
They bought a great big apartment building in Washington. I think it was 18th and G. I was transferred to that living quarters, but there were three double bunk beds in one apartment and there were six of us living there. There were only two of us who worked in the daytime. The others weren’t there all the time, just the two of us.
I was in the Navy Department in the Bureau of Ships, the Diesel Engine Section. When we would get requests — they had to be verified in Washington — we would teletype the request to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Naval Supply Depot. There would be someone at that location who was privy to where the ship making the request was and could verify that the request for supplies was legitimate.
I joined in about April, I think it was, spring of 1943. The war ended in 1945. I was released in August. I had a limited amount of time to get to the university to take advantage of the GI Bill. So that’s when I quickly went to New York to Columbia University. I had to be there in time to begin classes in September. So, September 28th, I think it was, I started classes at Columbia at the School of Business.
I have my business degree, and General Eisenhower was president of Columbia at the time, so my degree shows his signature on the bottom of it. Through Columbia they had a placement department, I guess you would call it that, for veterans. And I took a job with an insurance company branch for Kemper Insurance.
For a farm girl from Scranton, to have the adventure of the training in the Navy, and then being stationed in Washington, D.C., with 30,000 other women, going to Columbia University. I just loved it!
“A friend of mine and I worked in the same office, and we went into town for lunch. There was this inverted “V” sign out in front of the Government building. It had the pictures – drawings I guess they were – of the WAVES, and it said, Join the Navy. So, Vera and I went in, and we came out in the Navy.”
Austin “Al” Newsom – Lieutenant, Army Air Corps, 1943-1945; Colonel, Air Force, 1948-1975
When I was growing up, I lived near the airport in Winston-Salem, and I could see the airplanes over my house every day. I volunteered to join, and I went through what’s called a cadet program down in Texas. And so, when I got out of that I was automatically made lieutenant and got my wings.
I wanted a fighter plane. I went in with three of my buddies, and they all became pilots for smaller aircraft. But I had to go to the hospital, and it delayed me by four or five months.
[Newsom was selected to fly transport planes.]
The C-47 is the best aircraft ever made. It came into being before the war. It was just a real stable aircraft.
I was overseas flying when I was 19 years old. We got into the combat action of carrying supplies up, bringing wounded back, dropping paratroopers. One time the Germans surrounded American troops and we went in. We landed in a corn pasture, unloaded the ammunition, supplies and everything — enough for these guys to overcome the Germans. They were shooting at us while we were on the ground, the Germans were.
That’s probably one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. The most horrible sight was the survivors. They hadn’t been fed well, and they looked like hell. And we took them — we made a mistake of trying to give them some C-rations, and they got sick immediately.
After the war I stayed overseas for two years, flying out of Paris. You know, I just thought it’d be interesting, and I was in Paris. It’s not a bad place to be. I just decided I wanted to stay in. We had special duties; like one of our duties was pick up these German guys in Oslo — the Nazi German general and take him to the war trials. The best part was when they sent me to Norway for four months, and I learned how to ski while I was there. And I fell in love with a girl. That made it nice. In fact, when I got sent back to Paris, I got the guy in the order room to write out some phony orders to send me back to Norway for Christmas. Not too bad.
“When I went overseas in World War II I didn’t expect to come home, but I did. Most guys — it seemed like about 50 percent of them didn’t get back. It may not have been that bad, but I went over there and said, “I’m probably not coming back.” You just went to go do your job. So, you just sort of did it — when it was your time to fly you flew, right?”
Edward Dorsey – Aviation Machinist Mate First Class, Navy 1942-1946
I served in the United States Navy as an enlisted man. At the time I was discharged, I was aviation machinist’s mate first class. That’s the Navy description of an airplane mechanic.
I graduated from high school in June of 1941, and I was working. I was trying to get experience and some money when, in December of 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place.
I promptly enlisted in January of 1942 and remained in the Navy until the end of World War II. After I enlisted, I went to basic training; I wanted to become an aviation machinist’s mate.
I was assigned to the West Coast at the Naval Air Station in Oakland, California. It was the first time, of course, I had ever seen the Pacific Ocean. I quickly found out why there wasn’t anyone on the beach. The water was very cold, which was a shock to me. I didn’t realize the ocean got that cold.
After a short time there, I was transferred to San Diego, California, to the Naval Air Station. I was being placed in an organization called CASU-49. CASU meant Combat Aircraft Support Unit. It turned out that was in the South Pacific.
I left California on a troop ship and went to Hawaii. I still remember sailing into Pearl Harbor and seeing the remains of the battleship — the Battleship Arizona, I believe. As I remember it, you could still see wisps of smoke rising from the wreckage at that time.
We quickly left and did not know our destination, but it turned out to be Guadalcanal. We could hear gunfire in the distance, but we did not feel threatened because it wasn’t close to us. The airfield there had been activated, and there were airplanes there, and we went to work immediately maintaining and servicing those airplanes.
Eventually, we were notified we were going to be moved, and we went aboard a troopship again without knowing our destination. It turned out we went to an atoll. This particular one had a very large lagoon. One of the islands was big enough that it had an airstrip on it and a permanent garrison.
The fighting on Peleliu was fierce from the beginning, and the troop ship was not able to land us immediately on the beachhead because the fighting was too close. After a few days we were eventually on Peleliu.
We got in these tents, and the fighting, the battle zone, was relatively close to us. It was between the shoreline, then our tents, and then there was an airfield, and the Japanese were entrenched on the other side of the airfield and kept the airfield under fire. So we had to wait for the Marines to push them back far enough that we could activate the airfield. This was a difficult situation because not only were the Japanese determined fighters, but my observation was, they fought to the death. They did not surrender. The battle surged back and forth.
There was a mountain, or ridge above the airfield. Nobody could pronounce the name, but we called it Bloody Nose Ridge. The Marines had to clear the Japanese off that ridgeline, and it was such a difficult task. That has been called the most difficult fight that the U.S. military encountered during World War II. The first Marine Division suffered over 6,500 casualties during one month on Peleliu, which is one-third of the entire division.
The Marines finally pushed them back far — and I have great respect for the Marines. They finally pushed them back far enough that they were out of gunshot of the airstrip, and that we then could deploy the equipment that we needed to maintain and service aircraft.
The Japanese had landing vessels. They would come down the shoreline at night and ground their landing craft, and their troops would come ashore to fight. We could hear the landing craft come down, and they were looking for a good spot to land. Then shortly, when they landed their troops, a tremendous amount of gunfire would break out: machine guns, automatic rifles, and you name it. The Marines would finally kill everybody — and of course some of the Marines died too, no doubt — and you could walk up there the next morning and that sandy cove and the shoreline were littered with bodies, and you could see bodies in the kind of gentle surf there, rolling back and forth in the ocean. For a long time, I refused to think about that sort of thing, but I’m willing to talk about it now.
In any event, this kept on until all of a sudden one day, to my great surprise, we were notified that the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over. That, of course, was a consequence of dropping the atomic weapons on the Japanese homeland. If we had not done that, heaven only knows what a huge number of casualties we would have suffered.
So the war ended, and I went back to the West Coast. I was put aboard a light cruiser and then went directly from the island back to San Diego. The ships were not air-conditioned, it was just outside air. I was sleeping in this cot, probably in my skivvies, and all the sudden I woke up sometime in the a.m., and I thought, “What’s happening?” And I realized I was cold, and I thought, “What’s this?” It had been several years since I was cold.
The next day, we sailed into the harbor at San Diego. That was a great sight to look and see homes with lawns and shrubbery and automobiles on the street, because I hadn’t seen anything but military vehicles for several years. It was quite a sight.
I went back to the East Coast to be discharged. I wanted to study aeronautical engineering, so using the G. I. Bill I attended Purdue University.
“There have been several turning points in my life. One was when I was fortunate enough to be in the Navy. Another one was that I was fortunate enough to survive on Peleliu. And another one was that I was fortunate enough to go to Purdue because I had a very excellent education there.”