Kamikaze and Torpedo on the USS New Mexico

Bill and Jim in July, 2006, reminiscing about the war.

Bill and Jim in July, 2006, reminiscing about the war.

A couple of days ago I posted a letter from Jim about him volunteering for the Navy. He related that after Pearl Harbor he was assigned to the USS New Mexico (BB-40). From then he skips over the entire war, not telling us some of the most harrowing tales of the South Pacific.

There are hints, but most of the stories are missing. He does mention that one of his duties was far below decks, handling the huge bags of gun powder. He told me what each bag weighed, and I wish I could remember, but it was close to a hundred pounds. Jim was a small man, and only seventeen at the time. There might have been as much gun powder as there was Jim! He was doing his job, far below decks, always in danger of explosion, in tropical heat. My claustrophobic self cannot, does not want, to imagine being in that hell hole. Fortunately, Jim was able to wrangle a promotion to the bridge working navigation.

Beginning around the year 2000 Jim started visiting a war buddy of his in Clear Lake, Iowa. His name was Bill. They served together on the bridge of the New Mexico and had a lot of shared stories. The most dramatic was the one in the video below. There is more information about the attack on Wikipedia.

The last couple of times Jim visited with Bill, I drove him to Clear Lake. One day I took along the camera and tried to capture some stories from them. Jim was getting old and wasn’t able to keep up with the conversation very well, but he clearly enjoyed reliving the war and being with his war buddy Bill.

There were so many more stories, but, like other WWII vets, Jim wasn’t up to sharing them. Were the memories too vivid and painful? For several years I’ve attended a WWII Veteran’s Round Table where vets are interviewed to encourage them to share their stories. Those boys certainly had their challenges.

Jim had his challenges, too. There are stories that might be interesting to hear. We won’t hear most of them. Somewhere during the war he lost all of his teeth. I don’t know why, but it may have been due to a diet issue? The tropical sun must have damaged his eyes, too. He was always sensitive to sunlight and wore sunglasses outdoors.

Video at  http://youtu.be/47-QP-c8MPE