Sunday, August 16, 2015

A memorable experience on the USS Alabama

As posted above, a few days ago I got to tour the USS Alabama. It was amazing. The photos are a few of the more than 250 I took of the ship. 

While I was there, I had a very memorable experience. I used to say that these types of things are once in a lifetime, but fortunately for me they happen quite often. An older gentleman was walking the decks. He had a WWII veteran cap on, so I said hi, and told him it was great to see veterans still able to come out to these ships.

We got to talking, and he told me his story. He was a naval veteran who was on a destroyer escort for one of the carriers in the Pacific. He said he was a local, and that he came to the Alabama nearly every week. He has been doing so for many years. I thought the story would end there, as most veterans don't like to tell war stories to people they don't know, but this guy was different.

He said that during a naval battle near the Caroline Islands, his destroyer was absorbing the brunt of a Japanese aerial attack. The Japanese pilots were after the carrier that his ship was trying to protect, and his ship was starting to be overwhelmed. Of his 2 1/2 years at sea, this time was the time he was most scared, because even though no kamikazes were attacking, there was always that fear, and even without them the pounding they were taking was more intense than he'd ever been involved in.

Then, he said a call came over the radio that changed the fate of everyone involved that day. He said that it was announced that help was coming in the form of a battleship. He looked starboard, and he saw it. It was easily recognizable, as his ship had been near it in formation on many occasions.

It was the Alabama, and she came in with AA guns blazing. Apparently the mere sight of the Alabama was too much for the Japanese pilots, and all but a few broke off from their attack. The few who stayed never returned to their ships.

This guy is convinced that the Alabama and her crew saved his ship and all of their lives, so he comes to see her, to relive that feeling of relief in his mind, and to pay his respects to the crew, very few of whom are still alive. What more is there to say about a story like that, other than to say I felt humbled? It was a very moving experience, and I'm glad he shared his story with me.

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