My dad was not a storyteller. He served in the Navy, Pacific Theater, in World War II, but I never got much in the way of war stories out of him. Here’s the only one I remember. While training in Tucson he remembered being in the buffet line behind another guy. The guy cut the tips off the whole platter of asparagus in the buffet and left all the stalks.
As I understand it, the Navy housed its trainees at the Tucson Hotel during World War II, and it’s where my father stayed. The route between the nursing home dad was staying at in 2010 and the hospital where he went twice while we were in Green Valley (April), took us right past the place. I thought of asparagus tips.
After the funeral in Portland in July, the main activity the rest of the week was just being there for Mom. I went through notebooks of documents and photos my dad collected and had left for the next generation. This seemed the occasion to read them.
My dad didn’t talk much about his days before moving to Coos Bay and having a family. We knew the basic biography, but there was much detail that was new to me. The notebook included a thick file of Navy papers. It was like being introduced to a period of his life I didn’t know much about. Here are some things I learned about my dad:
1. He chose a veteran’s funeral. From the little he talked of his days in the service, I hadn’t realized that would be his choice.
2. He had seven siblings. I’d thought it was five. Two died in infancy.
3. In 1938-9 he worked as a bellboy on Great Lakes ships. In ’42-43 he was a night ticket agent; and in ’43 a messman. I gather his father helped get him these jobs, as he worked his way through college.
4. In 1937 at age 15 he looked like my brother.
5. Dad enlisted in the Navy in late 1943 as an ensign. He was able to enlist as an officer because he had a degree in Civil Engineering? He was still an ensign in 8/45 but must’ve been promoted to J.G. at the end of the war. He became a full lieutenant in 1950.
6. After the end of the war, he was in the Naval Reserve for ten years. I always thought he left the Navy at the end of the war.
7. I knew he served on a Destroyer Escort. To be exact, the LCS(L)94, which does not seem to have had any other name. He trained in 1944 and the 94 was launched in January 1945. Their route: Portland, San Diego, Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa, Japan.
8. Dad mentioned vaguely once that his ship had come under fire. A Navy memo tells the story of dad’s work in rescue and salvage operations for two stricken American ships:
Ensign ERICHSEN, participated in the OKINAWA Campaign from 10 May 1945 until 22 July 1945 as Engineering Officer under this command. During this time this ship was primarily engaged in radar picket duty. When not on this patrol, this vessel gave anti-aircraft support and smoke coverage for ships at anchor in the harbors at Hagushi, Le Shima, and Nago Wan. On 28 May 1945 and 11 June 1945 enemy aircraft were actively engaged and destroyed. This ship has two Japanese aircraft to its credit. On 10 June 1945 material aid was given in salvaging and resuming survivors from the destroyer William D. PORTER (DD 579) which was sunk as a result of enemy suicide and bomb attack. Forty-six survivors were taken aboard. The following day salvage work was done on the LCS(L)(3)122 which was hit by a Jap suicide plane. Nine survivors were taken aboard. In each case of salvage work, Ensign ERICHSEN led and took his Fire and Rescue Crew aboard the stricken ship and directed salvage operations with his equipment. The fire-fighting gear from this ship was actually responsible in extinguishing the fire on the LCS(L)(3)122. // 13 August 1945
The following link is a newsletter about the “LCS” ships and mentions the 94 and three others of its class (one of which was the ill-fated 122) in rescue operations of the Porter: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=we
9. After the war he stayed in the Naval Reserve, transferring from Portland to North Bend.
10. In 1947 he served on a training cruise of the USS Tilefish, SS 307, a submarine. Apparently dad was keen on this assignment at the time, but it was not a positive experience — on which Mom elaborated — and never wanted to go on a ship again. All of which I’d never heard before, but could explain why he talked so little about shipboard experiences.
11. In 1951 he got a request to volunteer for active service — the letter noting that it was strictly voluntary. By this time dad had 1.5 kids to support and was working toward (whether he knew it or not) opening his own engineering consulting firm in three years. Just as well he stayed home and did not serve in the Korean War.
12. His honorable discharge is dated 1956. By this time he had his own business and I think he simply couldn’t keep up with the required Navy training.
13. My dad left behind an autobiography — 4 pages — and a half page anecdote of his and mom’s first vacation together. He wrote it for us kids. Can four pages do justice to 88 years that included a war, a career, and long retirement? When it’s your life you’re talking about, you can take a lot for granted, and underestimate how much little details matter. The first vacation anecdote he wrote was a story he’d told us. It was nice to see it in writing — it casts him and mom as carefree newlyweds having a good time together. I only knew them after they’d become burdened with the three of us, the house, and a career.
Below: the graphic from the program for the commissioning of the LCS(L)94 on 16 January 1945.