I enlisted into the U.S. Navy on my 17th birthday. I was sworn in at Columbus, Ohio, and received my recruit training at Great Lakes, Ill.
The war in Korea heated up while I was in recruit training, and two weeks prior to graduation we were informed that all post-graduation orders and “boot leave” were canceled. My Company 107 was merged with Company 108, and after graduation all 120 men were troop-trained to Norfolk, Va.
The following morning, we were marched to Pier 7 and found ourselves looking up at the biggest ship any of us had ever seen. It was the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63). I was assigned, along with about a dozen other men, to the FA Division which was responsible for the armament. The battleship had nine 16” guns in three turrets, 10 twin 5”38 Anti Aircraft gun mounts, 20 quad 40mm anti-aircraft mounts and 49 single 20mm guns.
Four hours after boarding the ship, it moved away from the pier and headed for the open sea. Once through the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, the skipper got on the 1MC and told the crew we were headed at best speed for Korean waters. A loud voice of appreciation filled the air – HoooYaaah!
A hurricane off Cape Hattaras, problems getting through the locks at Panama, loading additional personnel and food stuffs at San Diego, installing the 20mm guns and loading more stores at Pearl Harbor, and finally skirting Typhoon Kezia in the Sea of Japan prevented us from taking part in the Inchon invasion! Missouri was ordered to Samchok in North Korea on a diversionary mission meant to confuse the enemy as to the actual invasion site.
While in Korean waters, the ship was involved in aircraft-carrier screening duty, gunfire support duty and 19 bombardment missions. Two of the bombardments were categorized as major battles. The crew earned the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal with two stars, the United Nations Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
My closest brush with injury occurred during a bombardment mission. When the 16-inch guns of Turret 3 were fired, all personnel assigned duties aft of the turret were ordered into the superstructure to avoid the effects of the concussion waves created by the huge guns. Three of us did not quite make it to safety within the ship! The guns were trained to the port side, and we had just dashed beneath them when a two-gun salvo was fired.
We were lifted up like rag dolls and slammed to the teakwood deck. We were dazed, but only slightly injured, and were able to help each other through the hatch to safety before the guns fired again! I thought my injuries were minor, but later in my career it took several surgeries to fix the injuries to my spine.
I believe our proudest act while in Korean waters was when the ship was ordered to provide covering fire while the Marines made their way from the frozen Chosin Reservoir in North Korea to the port city of Hungnam. We fired our 16” shells over the heads of our Marines, and they landed on or just in front of the hordes of Chinese troops who were in hot pursuit.
I was transferred from Missouri prior to its second combat deployment to Korea. 15 years later, I volunteered for service in Vietnam. I am presently a supervisor of volunteers aboard my old ship in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.