12/9/09

Let's take a trip on the SERGEANT C. E. MOWER

Searching through a drawer last night, hunting for my grandmother's watch, I came upon this card. Every so often I find this card hidden in the bottom of the drawer covered by clothing. This is a card my mother wrote to her mother in the early 1950s.

Sgt. C. E. Mower_tatteredandlost
Click on image to see it larger.

This is the ship I sailed on when I was around 18 months old. My family was on their way to Midway Island where we would live for a year. This ship, the Sergeant C. E. Mower, sailed from San Francisco to Hawaii transporting military personal and their families. Until now the mere mention of Sgt. Mower would bring laughs in our home because of the memories my folks have of the roughest sea voyage in their lives. But then tonight I decided to do a little bit of research online and came to have a more clear perspective of the history of this, as my mother called it, "crate."

The following is from Wikipedia and is quite interesting.  
USS Tryon (APH-1) was laid down as SS Alcoa Courier (MC hull 175) on 26 March 1941, by the Moore Dry Dock Company, Oakland, California and launched on 21 October 1941 sponsored by Mrs. Roy G. Hunt. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was designated for U.S. Navy use and assigned the name Comfort in June 1942. Comfort was renamed Tryon on 13 August 1942, acquired by the U.S. Navy on 29 September 1942, and commissioned on 30 September 1942, with Comdr. Alfred J. Byrholdt in command.

World War II
Tryon, an Evacuation Transport, got underway for San Diego on 9 October 1942 and departed from there on the 21st, bound for New Caledonia. On 7 November, she arrived at Noumea; joined the Service Squadron, South Pacific; and remained with that organization for the next 15 months, evacuating combat casualties from the Solomons to Suva, Noumea, Wellington, Auckland, and Brisbane. On her return trips to the forward areas, she carried priority cargo and troops for forces fighting the Japanese.

Tryon's first combat duty came in the Marianas during the summer of 1944. On 16 July, she joined Task Force 51 at Lunga Point and sortied for the invasion of Tinian. The hospital transport arrived off the beaches on the 24th, combat loaded with troops and equipment. After unloading, she embarked casualties for a week and then got underway for the Marshalls. The ship called at Eniwetok, New Caledonia, Espiritu Santo, and the Russell Islands before anchoring off Guadalcanal on 27 August 1944.

Tryon embarked 1,323 Marines of the 1st Marine Division and sortied on 8 September 1944, with Transport Division 6 of Task Force 32, for the assault on the Palaus. She was off the beaches of Peleliu on the morning of the 15th and disembarked elements of the assault wave. Then, serving as a hospital evacuation ship, she embarked 812 combat casualties and, on the 20th, stood out for Manus. She disembarked the patients at Seeadler Harbor four days later and headed back to Peleliu the next morning. The ship remained off the beaches from 28 September to 4 October and then joined a convoy bound for the Solomons.

USS Tryon (APH-1) at sea during World War II
When Tryon arrived at Tulagi on 11 October, she was assigned to the 7th Fleet to participate in the Leyte campaign. She called at Hollandia and Humboldt Bay en route and reached Leyte on the 30th. The ship completed unloading the next day and began the return voyage to the South Pacific. The transport loaded troops and cargo at Langemak Bay from 13 through 27 December and headed for Manus on 28 December 1944.

On 2 January 1945, Tryon stood out of Manus with Task Group 77.9, the reinforcement group, for the invasion of Luzon on the beaches of the Lingayen Gulf. She arrived off San Fabian on the morning of the 11th and began unloading troops and supplies. From 13 to 27 January, she received casualties on board and headed to Leyte Gulf where they were transferred to USS Hope (AH-7) and USS Bountiful (AH-9). On 2 February, she joined a convoy and departed for the Solomons.

On 22 February, the evacuation hospital ship got underway and proceeded via Pearl Harbor to the United States for an overhaul. She arrived at San Francisco on 11 March and remained in the navy yard until 20 May. After refresher training in San Diego, she sailed for Hawaii on 3 June and arrived at Pearl Harbor the following week. The transport then called at Eniwetok, Guam, and San Francisco before returning to Hawaii on 2 August. The next day, she headed for Guam and arrived there on the 15th to hear that hostilities with Japan had ceased. Tryon was routed to the Philippines, embarked occupation troops at Leyte, and joined a convoy for Japan on 1 September. The transport disembarked the troops at Yokohama and received liberated Allied prisoners of war en board for transportation to the Philippines. She disembarked them at Manila on the 18th.

Post-war operations
On 1 October, Tryon was assigned to the "Magic Carpet" fleet which was established at the end of the war to return troops to the United States. She served with it through the end of the year. In mid-January 1946, the ship was slated for inactivation. She was decommissioned at Seattle on 20 March 1946, returned to the War Shipping Administration in April, and struck from the Navy list on 17 April 1946.

Tryon was turned over to the United States Army on 17 July 1946 and converted into a troop transport by the Todd Shipyard, Seattle, Washington. She emerged from the yard on 25 August 1947 and was placed in service as USAT Sgt. Charles E. Mower.

The Secretary of Defense, by a directive dated 2 August 1949, established a unified sea transportation service; and, on 1 March 1950, the ship was transferred back to the Navy Department, assigned to the Military Sea Transportation Service, and designated T-AP-186. USNS Sgt. Charles E. Mower operated as a dependent transport shuttling between San Francisco and Pearl Harbor until she was inactivated in 1954.

Sgt. Charles E. Mower was placed out of service, in reserve, on 16 June 1954; transferred to the reserve fleet at Suisun Bay; and struck from the Navy list on 1 July 1960.
Okay, I had no idea this little joke in our family had such a history. And what's even stranger is that for a long time I lived near where this ship was mothballed and every time I drove by the mothball fleet in Suisun I was driving by a ship I'd once sailed on. Hadn't a clue. It might still be there.

Now as to why the ship was named the Sargeant C. E. Mower, also from Wikipedia:
Charles E. Mower (November 29, 1924 - November 3, 1944) was a United States Army soldier and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in World War II.

Mower joined the Army from his birth city of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and by November 3, 1944 was serving as a Sergeant in Company A, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. During an attack against Japanese positions that day, near Capoocan, Leyte, in the Philippines, Mower took command of his squad after the leader was killed and led his men from an exposed position despite being seriously wounded. He was killed during the battle and, on February 11, 1946, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Mower was buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City, the Philippines.
Medal of Honor citation
Sergeant Mower's official Medal of Honor citation reads:
"He was an assistant squad leader in an attack against strongly defended enemy positions on both sides of a stream running through a wooded gulch. As the squad advanced through concentrated fire, the leader was killed and Sgt. Mower assumed command. In order to bring direct fire upon the enemy, he had started to lead his men across the stream, which by this time was churned by machinegun and rifle fire, but he was severely wounded before reaching the opposite bank. After signaling his unit to halt, he realized his own exposed position was the most advantageous point from which to direct the attack, and stood fast. Half submerged, gravely wounded, but refusing to seek shelter or accept aid of any kind, he continued to shout and signal to his squad as he directed it in the destruction of 2 enemy machineguns and numerous riflemen. Discovering that the intrepid man in the stream was largely responsible for the successful action being taken against them, the remaining Japanese concentrated the full force of their firepower upon him, and he was killed while still urging his men on. Sgt. Mower's gallant initiative and heroic determination aided materially in the successful completion of his squad's mission. His magnificent leadership was an inspiration to those with whom he served."
To see a photo of Sgt. Charles E. Mower click on this link.  

Now, as to what my mother wrote inside the card...
Wed. Morning

Dear Mother,
Thought I would let you know how we are making out. This is the ship we are on. It is supposed to be the smallest ship on the Hawaii run, and boy does it ever rock. In fact one of the sailors said it would even rock in dry dock. What a crate. We have a nice state room and private bath. The food is excellent. We were late in leaving Frisco so won't arrive until tomorrow (Thursday) in Hawaii.
Let me tell you we weren't out of the Golden Gate an hour before everyone aboard started to get sea sick. Sat. night was a rough night. I think every sailor and Marine aboard was sick. Sat. night they only had two guards left on duty and one of them was so sick he could barely hold his head up. Even the poor dog on board was sea sick. Some people are still below in their sacks. We are lucky we are on A deck. They have plenty of entertainment for the kids. Had an Easter party for them. They all got an Easter basket filled with candy. Had a birthday party for them yesterday and there are movies and story hours twice a day."
She then goes on to say about me that I was "an old salt. Never phased her" and that I was "running them ragged on deck trying to keep up with me. You should have seen her Sat. night. All  night long she slid from one end of the crib to the other and when the ship started to rock she sang 'bye baby bye.'" Apparently I was a bit of an existentialist even at a very young age. And now I find for good reason. My dad informed me this morning when I was discussing this card with him that on the really bad night I was nearly killed by a lamp. My crib was under the port hole. Across cabin was a metal desk with a large heavy brass lamp on top. During the pitching and tossing that night the lamp came flying across the room and just missed me by falling to the floor right before my crib.

Eventually we made it to Pearl Harbor and flew to Midway Island. My mother used to tell me about the approach to the island. My dad pointed out the window at the tiny island and said "There's where you're going to live for the next year." My mother was stunned. But other than the lack of fresh food it was apparently a really good year and I have old footage of me running along the beach chasing Gooney birds near rusted wreckage from the Battle of Midway that had occurred a little over ten years before we arrived.

I debated whether to put this on my ephemera blog or here in the vernacular photography blog. It was a toss up, could have gone either way. It's a card, it's a photo. It's two, two, two things in one. And now for me Sergeant Mower is two things in one. The ship on which I made my first sailing adventure and a man who gave his life for his country. Sort of an odd mix to find at the bottom of a drawer.

To see an update to this post, including comments from Sgt. Mower's brother, click here.

33 comments:

  1. I've never been on a ship, I'm sure I would get sick.

    I have flown into Midway, Guam, Wake..... some more exciting than others. The runway on Wake is longer than the island itself...nice for someone like me who is sure to be eaten by sharks.

    A most excellent post.. wonderful that you have actual footage of your childhood at that time, not many people do.

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  2. I wish I had concrete memories of the island but everything is secondary through photos and 8 mm film. Actually I do have one memory. It's my first memory in life and it's scrubbing the wall in our quarters. I'd drawn all along the wall in the dining room with a crayon and when my dad got home he made me scrub the wall. I have memories of crying and him holding my arm to move the brush up and down as we scrubbed. Cured me of ever drawing on a wall. When we moved back to the mainland and went to our house in Chula Vista that had been rented I came screaming out of my room "I didn't do it! I didn't do it!" Apparently the renters had a kid that went to town on the walls with crayons.

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  3. We came back from Germany in 1960 on the General George S Patton (JR?) and there was one day we were all sick as dogs too. Even the plates and glasses in the dining room were strapped down.

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  4. I imagine the Patton had the tables with the edges to keep the plates from sliding off.

    Yup, you have to take saltines on board. That and dramamine.

    I remember sailing back from Hawaii in '62 on a military transport and the first day down to breakfast there was a young man, wife, and baby sitting across from us eating like pigs. Lunch the wife didn't look so good. By dinner she was gone and we never saw her again. Next day the baby disappeared. By the second dinner the husband disappeared. My father had tried to warn them to go slow on the food but they wouldn't listen. We on the other hand were fine.

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  5. We also watched every Disney movie ever made at that point at least twice. Saw whales, and then sailed passed the Statue of Liberty with hundreds of GIs on the lower deck dancing to Little Eva's Locomotion on their transistor radios.

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  6. Whoa, you had it made! Coming back from Hawaii, on the Naval vessel whose name I can't remember, all we had was a library. I walked the deck with my father over and over again until we'd reached a mile. Then we'd go to the fantail where the dog kennels were located and we'd walk the dog. Then we'd make a trip by the little library with the metal gray walls. Then I'd sleep. Same thing each day for 5 days. Under the Golden Gate bridge in fog unable to see anything. I mean, you had sailors dancing to Little Eva. That's worth remembering!

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  7. Rob Sparacio1/02/2010

    Thank you for posting this, I was going through my late fathers photos to scan in for my family and came across the exact same card with a different photo of the ship. Inside was also a letter to my grandmother as my father was in the Marines and writing to her letting her know that he would arrive in Hawaii the next day.

    I did a search for the name of the ship and found your post. I love that you put up the history of the ship, thanks so much for the info that makes this history a little more personal.

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  8. Rob, I'm thrilled to find the post meant something to someone else. It was an eye opener for me when I put it together because as I said the ship was always a joke in the family. I have a lot more respect for the little ship. Glad you found the information of value.

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  9. Lee Jordan8/11/2010

    I sailed with a bunch of other soldiers from Seattle to Whittier, Alaska, on Dec. 28, 1948, aboard the Mower. As the tugs left her after pulling away from the pier, there was a loud "pop." We all ran to the starboard rail and looked down. From the deck where I stood, a foot-wide crack ran down to the water. The tugs returned and took us back to the dock. It was rumored that the same thing had happened at Whittier on a previous trip. Two days later we re-boarded. The next day, she lost as propeller and we stopped dead in the water. I was sure we were going to die and spent the rest of the trip below in my bunk. A new prop was installed and we continued, arriving in Whittier on Jan. 4. I am still in Alaska, but love to go on cruises...but not on troop ships!

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  10. Lee, Thanks for the comment. I like knowing this post has brought back memories for others who sailed on her. The fact that all these things went wrong on your sail and it was still being used years later has me thankful I made it through. Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. I went to Hawaii at the age of three, on board The USS Sgt. Mower also. You might have been one of the little kids I saw while playing on the play ground swings, watching cartoons in the theater room, or attending a manditory Sun Drill on the main deck where everyone had to be waring hat. I just yesterday found information on The Sgt. Mower, and tears came to my eyes. It is my greatest wish that she is still afloat. That ride to Hawaii was the greatest thing that I could imagine for a three year old boy with father in the Navy. My Mother didn't pack me a hat, so for Sun Drill I was made to ware a Sissy looking bandana!! That I'll never forget. Jim

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  12. James,

    I'm glad you found this post. It's nice to know others share memories of the Mower. Though I have no memories of being onboard it's name and the stories my folks told me have been part of my history. Glad to have shared it with you and glad you shared your memories here with me.

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  13. Madeleine Daniels1/28/2011

    So surprised and happy to read your post.
    I too have The Mower as part of my history. Both my grandparents and parents were raised in Hawaii. My father worked for the Government and got a job at The Naval Weapons Station in Concord, Ca. after I was born. We came to California when I was about 18 months old on the Sergeant Mower.

    I have no memory at all of the trip. My mother told me that I was the only little girl on board. I was asked to play the dinner bells for dinner and we were asked to sit at the Captains table.

    In fact I didn't know the name of the Ship until I was in my 50's. One day I asked my mother about the ship and she said it was a Troop Ship called the Sergeant Mower.

    I did a little research too and was surprised to find out that all those years that I could see the Moth Ball Fleet from my upstairs window in Benicia the very ship that brought me to the mainland was right there looking back at me.
    This Christmas our daughter gave us a gift to tour of The
    Moth Ball Fleet in the Susuin Bay. The Sergeant Mower may not be there but we will take in her spirit.

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  14. Madeleine,

    It continues to thrill me that this post is still being enjoyed by people who in some way knew the Mower. I guess we keep a little bit of Sgt. Mower, the ship an the man, alive.

    When you go on that cruise through the mothball fleet yell a big hello from me to all of the ships in hopes that the Mower is there.

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  15. Good news, she is there in the Moth Ball Fleet!
    What a thrill it was. As our tour boat approached the first line of ships my husband and I decided to step out of the cozy cabin and into the wind and rain to take some close up pictures. As soon as we stepped on to the deck the tour guide announced that the first ship was the USS Tyron. I remembered that name from your blog that I read just the night before. I just stopped in my tracks, unexpectedly emotional. Thank you.
    She is here and she looks good!

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  16. Madeline, That's so exciting! Probably the only ship I sailed on that wasn't put to scrap. I can't wait to tell my father. How do you go on these tours? Do you have a link to the name of the company? I'd love to take my dad.

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  17. I enjoyed tremendously reading your post and the comments after it. My dad served on the USS Tryon for the duration of WW II. I'm THRILLED to think that she is still around. I can think of nothing more exciting than the prospect of seeing my dad's old ship. I'd love to find out about that tour myself! Thanks for this most interesting blog post.

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  18. tmh8286,

    So glad you found the post and thrilled that it meant something to you. It's interesting how important this ship is to so many people. So many of us share a bond through her. Of all the posts I've done this one has received the most heartfelt comments.

    Doing a quick online search it looks like you can go to the following address to find out about the tours:

    http://www.bayviewcharters.com/US_Navy_Mothball_Fleet.php

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  19. Anonymous3/11/2011

    I have checked the list of ships still being held in the reserve fleet and i"m not seeing Mower or Tryon. ship was scrapped in 1969

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  20. Thanks for the information. Certainly sad to hear the ship is gone. Another poster was positive it was there when she went on the tour. Apparently the guide is giving out information which may be wrong.

    I may go on the tour anyway.

    Thanks for the update.

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  21. Anonymous11/01/2012

    Thank you so much for sharing your research. I too crossed the Pacific on the Sgt. Mower in March 1953 with my mother, a one year old sister and brand new twin sisters to meet our father, a Marine pilot, in Hawaii where we were stationed for four years. I was four years old. We still marvel at how our mother managed. She also kept a detailed diary, "Maloneys Board the Sgt. Mower - Bag - Baggage - and Babies" in which she mentioned what a pity the delicious food was going to waste with everyone seasick and how wonderful the children's programs were. I never tire of reading it, laughing and crying at the same time. My parents gave us one more sister while in Hawaii. My sisters have been the greatest gift from them throughout my life. Thank you again for adding to my memories. Margaret Ann Maloney

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    Replies
    1. So glad you found the post and it meant something to you. And it's nice to think the old ship and the man it was named after have a second life here on the net.

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  22. KIMLEIGH CLAYTON BROWN11/16/2012

    I was seven when my family and I returned to the States from Oahu on the Mower. Rock? Did it ever rock!! I was so sick that I thougt that I was going to die -- along with the rest of my family. I ws never so happy to lay a foot on dry land as I was when we disembarked in San Francisco.

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    Replies
    1. Thrilled you found the post and shared your rocky memories!

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  23. Anonymous2/18/2013

    I have discharges that show that I sailed on the Mower out of Seattle throughout Alaska including Seward, Whittier and all through the Aleutian Islands including Attu, from 9/17/47 to 8/31/48. I worked as an Ordinary Seaman and Deck Storekeeper. On our last trip we were trying to get out of the Gulf of Alaska and in to the Inside Passage, rolled 45 degrees, and then hove too which messed our tight schedule. It also cracked the hull. She was repaired and transferred to California where the seas were kinder. She was the prettiest ship I sailed on during my seven years at sea.

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    1. Again I'm thrilled that another person who sailed on the Mower steps forward. Glad you found the post and thank you for contributing.

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  24. Anonymous3/06/2013

    I was so glad to find this blog. I work for Sgt. Mower's brother in Chippewa Falls, WI. Sgt. Mower was 21 days short of his 20 birthday when he died for our country. The battle his helped direct must have been important to the war. Having a Navy ship named for an Army soldier is an honor. Sgt. Mower's brother still gets tears in his eyes when he talks about his brother.

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    1. I can tell you that this post has meant a lot to me because of the interaction with readers. It has been wondrous to find this old ship meant so much to so many people. And when I discovered the history of the ship and why it carried this name I felt a reverence for it I'd never known.

      I'm glad you found the post and I hope you let Sgt. Mower's brother know that we all honor the sacrifice he and his family made.

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    2. And should Sgt. Mower's brother wish to make any comment here just let me know. I'd be happy to help keep his brother's memory alive.

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  25. Anonymous3/08/2013

    Sgt. Mower is my great uncle. My family has been wanting to get my grandpa, Charles' brother, to either visit his grave or tour this ship. Is this ship still available for tours? And if so, where is it located? We know this would mean a lot to my grandpa and I will be sure to tell him about the remembrance of his brother's memory.

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    1. Sadly, my understanding is that the ship is gone. From what I've been told it was in the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay near the Benecia Bridge in the San Francisco/Bay Area. The government has been getting rid of the fleet. I do not know the fate of the Sgt. Mower. You can read a bit about the fleet here:

      http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2011/sep/27/travel-ghost-fleet-suisun-bay-california/

      And here was a news report from several years ago:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu4zUEEYwKw

      You could contact this tour company to see if they know anything:

      http://www.bayviewcharters.com/US_Navy_Mothball_Fleet.php

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  26. Brother Sgt Charles E. Mower3/19/2013

    What a surprise finding all of this interest in the ship named after my brother. I'm sure he is looking down reading all the comments and has a big smile. He was a fun loving person, good athlete and loved to fish and hunt. The year '47 when the boat was converted from a hospital ship to troop transport our family was invited for the launching ceremonies. Cars and roads limited travel to about 500 miles in a day. It was quite a trip going from Wisconsin to Seattle, Washington.

    My parents are now deceased along with one sister. My other sister and I live on the same lake (Wissota) just outside Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. I'm hoping she will give a report along with our 10 grandchildren. All the families have a picture of the ship hanging on their wall along with the medal of honor citation and picture of my brother.

    When the ship was moth-balled the Navy sent us the three bronzed plaques that were on the ship giving the medal of honor history. One was given to our local American Legion post, one to our local McDonell High School that we all attended and one is mounted in a stone display in front of our local court house. The medal of honor along with pictures of the ship etc. have been turned over to the Chippewa County Historical Society.

    Following graduation from high school my brother and two of his best friends (Ken Reiter/Bill O'Neil) decided to sign up for the service rather then waiting to be drafted. They called themselves the Three Musketeers. They first went to the Marines. My brother was color blind so he was turned down but they would accept the other two. They wanted to be together so then went to the Navy. After their physical they got the same story. Because of my brothers color blindness he would not qualify but they would accept his two buddies. They refused to be split up. They then went to the Army. At that time because of the war very few were ever refused. They all signed up together. Their day came when it was time for them to board the bus heading to Milwaukee. They were together until it came time to leave the bus. Then they lined up outside the bus according to alphabet. They never saw each other after that day.

    I don't want this to be too long. I'll have to think about this some more and may put together another comment or two at a later time. I enjoy all of your comments and thank you so much.

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    1. I am so honored and thrilled to have your comment. This post has grown each year to mean more and more to me. I will be reposting it so that people become aware of this history.

      As I said in the post, the ship was just a joke in our family because of how it rocked. None of us knew the history of the ship. My father was quite surprised to hear it was named after such a courageous man. I wish my mother was still alive to hear all of this.

      Your brother was an honorable man who went beyond what a regular person would have done. As those pass on who remember the war, I hope that this post will shine some light on one of our heros.

      Nothing but positive thoughts to you and your family.

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