Images of WWII continue to surface for U.S. veterans
by Alison Bath
It’s been 60 years since World War II ended. Yet for scores of American veterans, the images and impressions left by the conflict are never far from their thoughts.
For Navy veteran Rip Holo, 78, the Battle at Okinawa is still fresh. U.S. military forces had hoped to take over the strategic Pacific Ocean island group in preparation for a possible invasion of Japan, he said. Holo was part of the crew that transported U.S. Marines to Okinawa for the campaign.
“They were dropping like flies,” said Holo, who as a 17-year-old Navy radioman watched troops storm the Okinawa Beach in April 1945. “But they kept on going.”…
Holo was among more than a dozen veterans of the amphibious assault ship USS New Kent recently in Fallon for an 11th annual reunion.
Fallon resident Al Pierre, who also served on the New Kent, and his wife, Georgeen, hosted the five-day event which included visits to Lake Tahoe, Virginia City, and Naval Air Station Fallon. The group included veterans who served on the New Kent during World War II and the Korean War.
Pierre said the event gave New Kent veterans the chance to catch up with each other and share war stories. The 79-year-old, who retired from the Navy in 1964 after some 20 years of service, is one of the few remaining crewmen who saw the ship launch in San Francisco Bay in October 1944.
“We went down to San Diego and trained with the boat crew,” said Pierre, who remembers the back-breaking job of carrying 100-pound sacks of sugar and flour onto the ship before it left port. “Then it was on to Honolulu and then to Guadalcanal.”
While the New Kent served in a variety of ways “” mainly transporting troops and cargo “” during World War II, it was the Battle at Okinawa that resonated with many of the veterans attending the reunion.
The ship was among the original fleet transporting troops for the April 1, 1945 invasion, considered to be among the bloodiest conflicts of the Pacific campaign. Some shipmates would spend days on the beach and others would watch the battle rage from the ship’s deck before the New Kent departed for Guam some six days later.
Francis St. Germain keenly remembers the rush of emotions he felt while helping pilot a boat of troops to the beach.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said St. Germain, who spent some three days on the beach. “You could hear our own bullets (ricocheting) and coming at us. We didn’t know where they were coming from.”
By the time combat would end months later, 12,000 U.S. troops were dead or missing and another 38,000 injured. The campaign’s grisly images are firmly implanted in Holo’s mind.
“The worst sight I saw was a (Japanese kamikaze) plane going into the side of a hospital ship,” Holo said.
“For years, I couldn’t get that out of my dreams.”
But not every moment on the New Kent was fraught with peril. The men found ways to have fun and fondly remember the time they transported five Navy nurses back stateside.
“That was interesting,” Holo said.
Joe Fanelli, 77, was assigned to the New Kent when it was first decommissioned in 1949.
Fanelli cheerfully recalls taking the captain’s private boat out for a spin. He and a few other crewmen took the boat too far up a Texas river and became stuck on some piers underneath a train trestle.
After a series of unfortunate events which included destroying the boat, seeing the trestle catch on fire and ending up in jail, the three finally made it back to the ship and into their bunks.
But soon afterwards, they found out the captain was on his way to see them.
“You’ve never seen three sailors take off so fast in your life,” Fanelli said.
The ship was subsequently recommissioned in 1951 and decommissioned again in 1954. June Hestad said attending the reunions with her husband Bob, who served on the New Kent as a radioman during World War II, has been a blessing.
Through the yearly gatherings “” hosted by veterans living throughout the country “” Bob Hestad was able to reconnect with Holo.
The pair went through boot camp and radio school together, and served alongside each other on the New Kent but lost touch after the war.
“We’ve made friends with people we wouldn’t have known otherwise and found out we have a lot in common,” June Hestad said.
While New Kent veterans enjoyed reminiscing about their part in one of the world’s most notable wars, they also took time to reflect on the efforts of servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They are still fighting for this country whether people believe in (the war) or not,” Holo said. “We should support them a 100 percent.”