USS Norman Scott reunion draws WWII veterans to Vallejo, Calif.
Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif.
VALLEJO, Calif. — Norman Monfort was just a young sailor on June 24, 1944 when Japanese shore battery projectiles tore through the USS Norman Scott and killed a man just to his right.
Dropping his grip on a 40 millimeter gun, Monfort jumped as metal ripped through his hands and chaos erupted on the Naval Destroyer patrolling in the Pacific during World War II.
Both the USS Norman Scott and Monfort came to Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo for repairs -- the ship in the base's busy yards and the sailor at the military hospital.
Nearly 70 years later, Monfort remains part of a dwindling group of Norman Scott survivors who stage yearly reunions drawing generations of family members, friends and other loved ones.
"We were all just a bunch of kids," recalled Norman Scott veteran Lloyd Thacker of his years aboard the ship. He drove from Illinois with his daughters for a special reunion Friday in Vallejo while Monfort flew out from Georgia.
For most it was the first time they had seen Vallejo and Mare Island since 1944 when the badly damaged ship was hauled in for round-the-clock repairs workers completed in 26 days.
The reunion group's one-day trip to Vallejo included tours of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the Mare Island Museum, lunch and a drive on a tour bus through the city. Later, they would hold a memorial service for departed crew members in San Francisco.
Commissioned in 1943, the Norman Scott fought in the Pacific and was even the
subject of a Navy public relations movie about ships repaired on Mare Island.
After her 1944 repairs on Mare Island, the ship returned to the Pacific and continued fighting until the war's end.
Events of those long ago days were on the minds of former crew members, many in their late 80s and 90s, on hand for Friday's events. The reunion also drew widows of former crew members, and several generations of family members and friends.
"We're losing our history with these fellows," said Bob Sherman, who flew out from Grand Rapids, Mich., for the gathering. For years, Sherman attended annual reunions with a former crew member who has since died.
Sherman now participates in the reunions on his own, moved by events nearly seven decades old and the service of World War II veterans aging rapidly and dying in greater numbers daily.
Likewise, Dawn Jensen, granddaughter of Norman Scott veteran Richard Peterson, attends reunions with her husband Tim and their two young children. All family members flew in from the East Coast.
"It's amazing to see and hear about what they went through," Jensen said. "I'm amazed at their bravery."
At age 87, Peterson is one of the younger veterans in the reunion group. He said he doesn't remember much about Vallejo and Mare Island, but does recall he went out on leave almost immediately after the damaged ship arrived.
"My parents found out about us being damaged by seeing us in a newsreel at the movies," he recalled.
Fred Ulam of Ventura, Calif., began to serve on the Norman Scott shortly after it came to Mare Island.
"I arrived on Mare Island the day it came here," Ulam said. "We were there training and getting ready to go back out to sea," he recalled.
As he browsed historical photos at the Mare Island Museum of the Norman Scott being repaired, former crew member Bob Shurmur said the former base is considerably more quiet than it was during its heyday in World War II.
Meanwhile, Marcus and Tania Miller said they will continue to attend the Norman Scott reunions to honor the memory of her grandfather Raymond Wingham, who served on the ship.
"We're in danger of losing history of what folks sacrificed for our country," Marcus Miller said.