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'I didn't want to leave my ship': WWII vets share stories of Pacific theater

By JONATHON SADOWSKI | | Published: July 6, 2019

RACINE, Wis. (Tribune News Service) — More than 74 years ago, as war raged across Europe, American naval fleets were waging a campaign in the Pacific Ocean to push the Japanese military back.

As the Second World War becomes an ever-more distant memory, so do the stories of those who fought. Many World War II veterans have died – of the more than 16 million Americans who served in the war, only about 497,000 were alive in 2018, with 348 dying each day, according to the National World War II Museum. But some are still with us. At the same time, just over 10,000 World War II veterans were alive in Wisconsin.

The Journal Times located several local World War II veterans who served in Europe, the Pacific and in the United States, to help preserve the legacies of some of Racine County's bravest souls.

Yesterday, The Journal Times highlighted Clarence Ivanoski, who served at various military bases throughout the United States, and Charles Daceno, who served in Europe. Tomorrow, The Journal Times is highlighting Helen Larsen, who recalled writing letters to her husband while he was away, and Charlene Smith, who talked about her father Charles Jacob's military service.

Here are the stories, as told to Journal Times reporter Jonathon Sadowski, of two local veterans of the Pacific theater.

Seaman 1st Class Harold Anderson, 95, drafted to the Navy in 1943 at 19

I was on the battleship USS Indiana, the "Mighty I." You don't get nowhere on a ship; you work. I was assigned to the turret, one of them big turrets with three barrels on it. I slept with the ammunition for the big cannons. I slept there at night with a gun, and I was ordered to kill anyone who came in – you're not supposed to be there, not where the shells are. You never know if someone wanted to blow up the ship. It don't take much to blow a ship up.

We'd have air attacks all the time. The Japanese would come. They'd come at night, always at night. They'd strafe us. I was at Okinawa. I was at Saipan. I was at them all. I think I had 10 battle stars. I was proud to have them because you wanted to look like a sailor, not a boot, someone just out of boot camp. The captain said, "Anderson, you ain't like these other guys. Why don't you study to become an officer?" But who the hell wants to study in a war? I didn't want to study. I was a sailor; I was a seaman. I wanted to stay with the guys.

Our ship was in Task Force 58. We didn't lose a battleship but we lost destroyers. Sometimes kamikaze fighters would try to crash into us, but they never hit us. I remember we chased the Yamato, the biggest warship in the world – bigger than ours. We chased her in the Battle of the East China Sea in 1945. She ran aground, because they figured they'd use her guns and make a last stand. She blew up.

I didn't mind being in the Navy. We had a good ship. If we were lucky, we'd go to Hawaii once in a while. We also stopped in Seattle once for repairs. I don't know if I had a favorite part, maybe the rest camp they once took us to. We got off the ship for a month and we just ate and slept. They wanted to give us a change. That we enjoyed. We could eat all day long – chicken, steak, anything you want. I was happy when the war was over, but I didn't want to leave my ship.

Tech Cpl. Joseph Schaub, 98, enlisted in the Army in 1941 at age 20

I was already serving in Louisiana when the Pearl Harbor attack happened. I was in the 128th Infantry 32nd division. I joined it because it was not a line company where you have to shoot somebody. It was a service company. After Pearl Harbor, they needed troops to go to Europe, so what did they do? They sent our division to Fort Warren, Massachusetts. The whole division, we were going to go to Europe. Well, we weren't there very long – maybe two, three weeks – they say, "No, no, no, no, no. You're not going to Europe. You're going to Australia."

So they sent us clear across the country on a train, and that wasn't too nice, either. We got to Fort Ord, California, and they send us to Australia because the Japanese are coming over the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea, so the troops in Australia were getting scared that the next hop would be to Australia. That's where I did most of my, I wouldn't call it battles, but that's where I was in the jungles in Papua New Guinea. We were trying to push them back. It worked pretty good.

Because our company was a service company, there were only a few guys that got killed. You couldn't get promoted very easily because of it. You had to have a space for it, and there wasn't anything for a sergeant or staff sergeant. One guy who got killed, we were in Buna, Papua New Guinea. We were resting along the coast because we couldn't go inland – there were headhunters there – the guy was sleeping under a coconut tree, and one of the branches fell and hit him right in the throat and killed him.

We were there at least a year. We'd go back and forth. We'd fight for maybe about six weeks, then we'd have to go back and rest. And that's when I got malaria. To take a rest, they'd send us to a little island off the coast of Australia they called "Good Enough Island." There, we lived with the rats. We had folding cots and a tent, and then we had one blanket and a pillow and mosquito nets. The rats were so thick we could feel them run across our cots and brush against our shoulder.

I got sent home before the war was over because I served long enough. They sent us home on a Liberty Ship, a cargo ship with no bunks or toilets or anything. We slept on a piece of plywood on the metal deck. I was on that ship, 30 days on the water because the Japanese had submarines out there on the Pacific and we had to move all around to avoid them.

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