Editor’s Note: The following is an article written and previously published by Angi Kearney for the Monticello Express, a weekly newspaper, located in Monticello, Iowa, just 12 miles from J&P’s headquarters. In March of 2002, the paper produced a special tabloid section featuring the stories of World War II veterans. In it, she wrote a column about both of her grandfathers’ experiences in the war.
They weren’t national heroes by any means. They were simple, hardworking young men who shared a common goal: to serve their country.
As military men in World War II, their stories start out quite differently. Jim Owen was drafted by the US Army when he was 20-years-old, living in Calhan, Colo., working on his dad’s 600-acre farm.
Roger Thompson was 18-years-old when he dropped out of high school in Albert Lea, Minn. to join the US Navy. He enlisted on Jan. 21, 1944, and began receiving boat training on Jan. 29. 1944 in Larragut, Ohio.
In some notes found in a scrapbook Roger writes, “Graduated from boats March 15, 1944, and had 15 days leave, returned to camp March 30.
“April 6, left Larragut and arrived at Shoe Maker, Calif.” On April 9, 1944 (Easter Sunday), he had a liberty and had to wire home for money.
“I hadn’t been paid, but had fun on my liberty,” he writes.
On April 21, he left Shoe Maker for oversees on the War Wake. They arrived at Pearl Harbor on April 27, 1944, stayed for two weeks and were then transferred to Fort Island.
On the aircraft carrier, Roger was an Airplot, someone who kept track of the airplanes leaving and returning to the deck. In addition, he also worked in the photolab.
A photo album highlights his experiences on the Yorktown, including an official photograph of the signing of the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. The photo was taken on the USS Missouri; however, the enlargements for the commanders were made on the USS Yorktown by Roger. While making copies for the commanders, he decided to make a copy for himself. Another photograph captures a kamikaze plane being shot down by gunners on the Yorktown (shown here).
Jim’s journey with the military is that as a member of the 6th Armored Division. He spent nine months as an automotive mechanic, one month as a chauffeur, five months as a light machine gunner and 22 months as a tank destroyer crewman. His rank during the last 27 months in the Army was that of Private First Class.
Around Aug. 24, 1942, Jim was captured by the Germans with two other men in his company. Fearing the worst, the three men jumped from the Jeep and hid in some hedge-rows until nightfall. During the day they would lay low somewhere and then move at night, according to my Dad and Grandma.
One day they hid in a German family’s barn, were found and the family was gracious enough to give them food and water. They were “missing in action,” so to speak, until around Sept. 7, 1942. My great-grandparents, Jim’s mom and dad even received a letter from the Army stating that their son was missing in action.
With one close call behind him, it never happened again and he managed to make it through the war, luckily, without injury.
I never knew much about either of my grandfathers’ time in war. Grandpa Thompson never said much about it and I’m sure that if I would have asked more from Grandpa Owen, he would have told me.
What I do remember is a large photograph of the USS Yorktown hanging above my Grandpa and Grandma Thompson’s bed. I recall the coat from the Army that my Grandpa Owen used to wear.
Since Sept. 11 (2001), the veterans of wars past, especially those of World War II, have been close to my heart. I remember my dad telling me after the 9-11 attacks that my grandparents survived the depression, and the war, we would surely survive this. This fact brought me great comfort.
Last week, I found out about the photo albums Grandpa Thompson had from the war. While looking through them, nearly 60 years old, it took me back to a place and time when I could hear Grandpa Thompson talking to me; sharing in the experiences he had shared so little about.
Unfortunately, he passed away three years ago, on Pearl Harbor Day no less…the stories he could actually tell gone with him. Shortly after, Grandpa Owen suffered a stroke, which didn’t claim his life, but his ability to vividly share his war details.
When talking with my grandma about this issue and while looking at photographs and different memorabilia he kept, he simply says he can’t remember parts of it.
All of those who have served our country in one way, shape or form are my heroes, especially my grandfathers. One, a hard-working farmer who was drafted, captured and got away; the other dropped out of high school to serve his country.