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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  August 16, 2009
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Topic category:  Other/General

Vets remembered.

Humble. I still use that word to describe them.

“Them” being the World War II veterans I’ve often had the opportunity to talk with.

The same can pretty much be said of almost every veteran I’ve met - especially the ones who’ve seen combat.

The thing is, their experiences are often enough to boggle your mind.

Russ MacGilvray lives in Edmonds and he’s another such individual.

He joined the Navy in 1942 after his aunt “discouraged” him from joining the Marines and trained to become a quartermaster - one of the individuals responsible for steering a ship and helping the navigator fix its position.

Fresh from training and, while in transit to his first duty assignment, he remembers being on the bow of his transport ship with another sailor and watching a torpedo go by - missing by just a few yards. They joked about it at the time, but he now marvels at how lucky they were.

Russ was eventually assigned to the USS Pringle - a destroyer. There, he changed jobs and became a signalman responsible for relaying messages between ships via flag hoists and blinker lights.

This past Saturday was the 64th anniversary of the end of World War II but, for Russ, the memories are a constant. You see, he was aboard the Pringle during the Battle of Okinawa - one of the greatest air-sea battles of all time.

During that battle, over 1900 suicide attacks were launched against our ships and the United States Navy sustained the largest loss of ships in its history. Thirty-four ships were sunk and another 368 damaged. More than 4000 sailors were killed and nearly 5000 more were wounded.

The USS Pringle was in the middle of it all. She was part of the “picket line” - one of a group of destroyers and small ships stationed far from the main fleet. Their job was to provide early warning of any approaching aircraft. They suffered doing that job.

The best way to do this is to let Russ tell you about April 16, 1945 - the day his ship was sunk.

“My general quarters station was on the bridge. The long glasses (a hand held telescope) were in a holder nearby and I took one to watch the Japanese planes coming in. One of them kept weaving through the anti-aircraft fire and I watched him until he completely filled the long glass.

“I was sure he was going to hit, so I took cover. I didn’t hear the explosion and was unaware of anything until a friend tapped me on the shoulder and told me that we had to abandon ship. The plane - loaded with 1000 pounds of bombs - had hit just aft of where I’d been taking cover and the force of the crash broke the ship in two.

“After my friend pulled the shrapnel I’d collected out of my legs, I entered the water and watched the ship sink in less than five minutes.

“I was a strong swimmer and I swam for some nearby life rafts but, when I got there, I found that they were crowded with men much more seriously injured than I was.

“I continued swimming for several hours until another friend came by and we decided to swim for a small vessel off in the distance. As we got closer, we heard bullets going by and saw that the men on that vessel were shooting at us. We were pretty upset and didn’t understand the reason for this until we’d finally gotten aboard. That was when they told us that they hadn’t been shooting at us but at the sharks that were right behind us.”

Russ survived that day and spent the rest of the war recuperating from his injuries. He returned to Bremerton and mustered out of the Navy in early 1946. He took up carpentry and joined a local union in Seattle eventually starting his own construction business in 1951.

He built his home in Edmonds in 1962, married in 1963 and has been a resident ever since. He enjoys hunting and fishing and still has vivid memories of the war.

The only thing he asked was that I mention the ship and the crew he served with. You see, more than 60 of his shipmates died that day and, to his mind, they were all heroes.

What he most wishes is that more of them would have survived.

What he frequently said of his experiences, as do all of the veterans I’ve ever spoken with, is that he was simply doing his job.

Humble.

There’s no other word for these men.

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.


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Copyright © 2009 by Larry Simoneaux
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