Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Western Springs, IL) When he signed up for the Navy in 1943, the recruiting posters of that era said, “Join the Navy and See the World.” As a Seaman 1st class assigned to the Asia/Pacific Theater, Patrick “Pat” Duffy did get to see a lot of the world. He also made important contributions to the fight for freedom as a gunner’s mate. He was responsible for the operation and maintenance of the ship’s guns, from small 45s to 20mm, deck-mounted long range guns. These were an essential part of defending and protecting his ship, other ships, and other soldiers engaged in the land and sea battles of the Pacific.
Pat’s first duty assignment was on the USS Baron based in Nouméa, New Caledonia, the Navy's principal fleet base in the South Pacific. The USS Baron, a destroyer escort, was part of the backbone of the Navy’s fight against the Japanese. Pat and the crew of the USS Baron helped to deflect enemy attacks on the USS California during the Battle of Saipan in June, 1944. The USS Baron drew attention away from the USS California by firing at Japanese planes and dropping depth charges when Japanese submarines were located. Pat saw similar action during the Battle of Guam and said “it was nerve wracking, firing 20mm guns with no protection from Japanese air attacks.” Fortunately, no one was killed or injured, and Pat says, “We were lucky.”
His next assignment was on the USS Hershey, a transport ship that made regular trips to Manila to deliver essential supplies and fresh troops while also picking up the wounded. They also transported American prisoners of war back to safety. Pat is still deeply moved talking about the POWs who were “nothing but skin and bones.” And even though they had been rescued, some distraught POWs tried to commit suicide by jumping overboard. Pat’s memory of this is still very painful.
In September 1945, the USS Hershey just happened to arrive in Seattle on VJ Day. Pat and the crew were very excited and all wanted liberty that night so they could celebrate the end of the war against Japan. Despite the war’s end, the Hershey’s importance in the Pacific was far from over. After three days in Seattle, the ship transported the legendary Sunset Division (41st Army Infantry) back to Tokyo to serve as MacArthur’s peacetime security force.
Pat later served for several weeks in Tsingtau, China on the LST 1050 training the Chinese military to operate the hulking LST landing ships. These ships supported amphibious operations by carrying vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto an unimproved shore. The United States provided these versatile ships to the nationalist Chinese so civilians could be evacuated from mainland China to the safety of Taiwan and away from the increasing threat of Communism.
Pat has especially good memories of his time on the USS Rehoboth, an aviation patrol vessel and his last ship assignment. One event that stands out is the historic flight of the Turtle, a Navy P2V aircraft. On the day of the flight, the USS Rehoboth was stationed 10 or so miles off the coast of Western Australia in case something went wrong and the Turtle needed help. Pat watched with fascination as the plane flew low over the USS Rehoboth at the start of its amazing 55-hour, 11,000 miles, nonstop journey from Perth, Australia to Columbus, Ohio. Pat remembers, “It was so close you could almost touch it.” The flight proved that longer aircraft patrol ranges, crew endurance, and new navigation methods were possible. Witnessing the start of this historic flight is a special memory for Pat.
His fondest memory of his Navy service was a closely guarded secret for a long, long time. While on the USS Rehoboth, Pat got the idea to “clean up” the Captain’s gig —a battleship gray Chris Craft, inboard motorboat that was used to ferry the Captain to and from the USS Rehoboth when it was in harbor. When he presented his idea to the Captain he asked “What do you mean, ‘clean up’?” Pat’s plan was to strip off the gray paint all the way down to the mahogany, polish the brass, replace the curtains, and take the boat back to its original beauty. The Captain told him to go ahead.
One day, after the transformation was complete, Pat brought the Captain to shore in their “new” gig and it stood out in a harbor full of military vessels drawing the attention of someone very important. While Pat was waiting for the Captain, an Army Lt Colonel came down to the dock and asked him, “Who’s the coxswain of this boat?” Pat said he was. The Colonel then asked, “Whose boat is this?” When Pat told him it was his Captain’s, the Colonel said, “Come with me,” and they boarded a big white yacht. Pat was escorted into an office and there behind a desk sat Gen. Douglas MacArthur himself, corncob pipe and all! MacArthur asked him, “Who gave you permission to take the paint off that boat?” Pat replied, “The Captain did.” MacArthur told Pat to take the boat back to the USS Rehoboth and that he never wanted to see it in the harbor again. Pat immediately took the gig back to their ship and brought the whaler to fetch the Captain. When the Captain saw the whaler instead of his gig he was not pleased. Pat explained what had happened, and the Captain had an idea of his own. They returned to the USS Rehoboth and got into the gig. The captain instructed Pat to take them to the harbor and make several passes around MacArthur’s big white yacht. They were sure to splash plenty of salt water on the yacht to make sure MacArthur knew an Army guy could not give orders to a Navy guy!
Thank you Pat for your service and sacrifice during World War II. Enjoy your well-deserved day of honor in Washington, D.C.