An ageless warrior and The Magic Carpet Ride
A quick story of ones mans account as told by another.
It was July 28, 2013 when the story was told to me and I felt it was worth sharing. I hope you enjoy it if you spend the time to read it.
A recreational vehicle suffered some damage to the awning on its side. The driver and his wife pulled over to tie up the damage so as to continue on with their journey. This is when I stumbled upon them. I offered some assistance but was politely rebuked because they had all of the tools and know how to get their house in order though they were quite appreciative.
I then noticed the ball cap the driver was wearing; it said WWII Veteran CV19 USS Hancock. I asked if he served in WWII and he said yes that he was on Aircraft Carrier CV19 the USS Hancock. I told him that I served on Aircraft Carrier CV66 the USS America, and so the conversation continued.
At this point I asked if his ship served primarily in the Pacific and he said yes that was where his ship served. He proceeded to tell me a story about how his ship got hit by a kamikaze strike.
It happened off the coast of Okinawa, presumably 7 April 1945, after the kamikaze strike, damage control obviously took precedence, American damage control was of course the finest in the world at that time and still is at least when I last served. The ship shook, noise was everywhere and the aftermath…death and destruction.
He recanted the group burials at sea, seven at a time. He said the first group got the priests blessing, one blessing for all seven, not individual blessings. The eighteen year old or so priest had enraged another member of the crew who was there for the burials (or was he part of the burial detail – I don’t recall). Anyway the enraged youth, another eighteen year old, went up to the young priest. It got heated. The exchange ended and the next burial at sea proceeded but this time the priest gave every sailor his due - a blessing each. And so the bodies went to their final watery grave having done their time and always on duty from this point forth.
Having witnessed several burials at sea, all of which were of cremated remains, it was quite touching hearing this get recanted especially since it came out of combat operations and they were full bodies of the dead or least what was left of them being sent to their final resting place. It doesn’t change, near impossible not to shed a tear.
Having been hit by the kamikaze he thought the war was over for him and the ship. CV19 limped back to Hawaii. He said when he got there he couldn’t believe it; workers came out of the woodwork by the hundreds! He said within a few short weeks they put back out to sea to get back into the fight – Can-Do attitude at its finest! From thinking the war was over to getting back into the fight in a few weeks was ok with him, no problem!
He didn’t linger long about the fight. His due today was the telling of the good stuff that happened in life at that time or otherwise. He told me stories of people that he knew; I think they were at the VFW post in Hobe Sound Florida where he hailed from these days. They were about a young woman (I think she was a nurse) and about a young man (whom again I believe was a priest) and the SS and the Wehrmacht in France and Belgium and of course he mainly spoke of the dead and a little bit of their story in those European country sides, all stories that were shared with him. And he finally spoke of a time when he went home.
Still tying up the awning that was torn form his RV he tied it into a knot – an old sailors knot – I forgot which one, an old hitch knot perhaps or at least I think it was. Knots were taught in boot camp – though I can honestly say I usually skipped that part thought I did sketch them out for future reference. He then used some wire to give it hat extra ump so as not to fall off of the side of the RV. It would have been too much work to remove the entire awning. We (there were three of us there at this point, Jimmy, Dana and myself) helped him load up the awning parts and in the RV and had some more dialog.
His wife was there talking about the old days also and that her husband would always prefer to do it himself, that Can-Do attitude – from both of them. A generation apart from most these days – simply awesome to talk to! If I had more hours it wouldn’t have been enough.
He proceeded to tell us about a woman whom I think he said joined the service at age 16 to be a nurse. Perhaps she lied about her age – I really don’t recall this part too well as I had some things to do. She ended up in Brisbane Australia. At one point they said she was to attend a dance function – for the service men (I am paraphrasing here). She stated she didn’t have anything to wear to such a function. The person in charge said not to worry that he would take care of that. He came around with some silk from parachutes – remade into dresses or just the silk fabric I do not recall. I do recall him stating that could you imagine, here you are a female with 3000 guys to dance with so far away from home – must have been a dream come true for her! I really do not recall her name.
He then told us about another individual whose name I also sadly do not recall. I think he said he was a priest on a Cruiser. This was no ordinary Cruiser, though he did not give the name of the ship I presume it was CA-71 the USS Quincy (also presumably originally named the St. Paul, which was changed after the battle of Savo Island). This was the ship that took then United States President Roosevelt to the Yalta conference. It was during this movement that the next paragraph refers to.
He recanted the story that Mr. Roosevelt attempted to talk to the priest in a casual manner and the priest was tongue tied. He said in the story that the young man was then asked by President Roosevelt that if he were his son could he speak to him and the tongue tied issue pretty much continued. It was a different time indeed.
The two guys I was with that day when we spoke were Jimmy and Dana. Both had family members that were in World War II. In September later this year, Jimmy will be in Normandy France. He plans on retracing the steps of his wifes (?) uncle from when he landed on June 7 at Omaha beach to Brest and in between where he was killed in action at some point with the Second Division. Jimmy’s story is an interesting one also as he met a lady from France that knew the area well where this man had fallen and offered to take him around on a personal tour s she lives near there. She stated that her son goes to school in a town very close to a memorial dedicated to the dead for those units that fought there. She recognized the patch that his unit bore and said it was at a certain memorial in that town.
And so the dialog went from kamikaze attacks in the Pacific, to a nurse in Brisbane Australia, to a Cruiser with everyday sailors and some of the most important persons in the world even to this date to now another story about the European battlefields of Normandy.
He recalled stories about those battlefields. The dialog was about the SS killings of POW’s into mass graves along the side of any given road or area, just about anywhere – unmarked, unknown, not everyone getting his due burial. Some buried alive, most not. A chord was struck.
I had to leave for a few moments at this point so I didn’t get the entire story on where it went from there. So I surmise that another person at the VFW in Hobe Sound was one of the unfortunate sons that got shot by the SS at that time in order to retell the sordid tale of being left alive after such a mass killing by the SS and their quick pullout due to combat conditions that enabled him to survive and not be buried alive. Perhaps it was a story that was told to him from another day as he served in the Pacific not Europe. Next time I see Jimmy Ill try to remember to ask or perhaps our mystery man might make a post to let us know.
The sorrow, the lost souls that were never brought home disturbed him as it should disturb any. Not everyone getting found, families not knowing where or how their sons died just felt wrong to him and we all agreed.
Jimmy mentioned that it was the Can do attitude of people from that time that made things happen and that this man and his wife were icons of that can do attitude. They lived it. They breathed it. They practiced it. They are can do persons. They were astonished by the statement claiming it was the ships motto as well as a motto of the USA, or at least I believe I was told this by Jimmy later that day as I was not there at that moment in time.
The dialog went to a time at peace. Out of the military and the government offered up to 52 weeks of recovery with a payday of $20 every week (or so that is the number I seem to recall him telling me). Maybe it was every month – that seems to make more sense. It was not to be after one or two weeks his father told him that he wasn’t going to be some lazy guy collecting money and off to work he went, and I don’t think he ever really stopped.
I then recalled an earlier conversation that day that Dana, Jimmy and I had. It was about a retirement ceremony that I was recently at. That retirement ceremony was for Monty St John of who currently writes Arduin material. Monty just retired out of the Air Force and had served 10 years in the Navy as well. George from Emperors Choice, my mother, father and I as well as the company had a Challenge Coin crafted for his retirement. A Challenge coin is frequently used in the military, if you don’t know what it is about – look it up! It is interesting and certainly wouldn’t take much of your time up. Very few of these coins were made for the retirement. There were 101 made. They were all given to Monty to do as he saw fit. I was given a coin or two.
So the story went. Previously I showed everyone the coin that I was given and explained the meaning of certain things on it. Specifically I explained the front which showed 10 years to the US Air Force, 10 years to the US Navy. Molon Labe – or come and take in Greek was emblazoned on the front center of the coin in between the military ranks, unit symbols and military branch symbols. On the reverse of course was the Emperors Choice logo, the Arduin Eternal logo for all the dedication to Arduin and the Jow Ga Kung Fu logo a passion held by Monty and the final items: An outline of the country of Vietnam colorized in its national colors with the US POW logo stamped on top; why the POW logo and Vietnam country outline? Well Monty was responsible for the recovery of the remains of 41 or was it 47 missing troops in Vietnam. Trawling through the countryside to make this happen is certainly a testament to veterans everywhere, especially to the dead, never forget. Hero to this ordeal as well is Monty’s wife Josie, who at the time in the military helped support these operations and was therefore a key cog as well. And I might make mention as well that their daughter Neala ties it all together for them since she is mentioned as well on it.
And then it happened, all the talk of the dead and not getting their just do, it struck me hard. The “Passing of the coin.” My hand went into my pocket and felt the weighty presence of the coin and I knew what I had to do. I palmed the coin in a firm handshake with this man and said something like “and so I pass this coin to you as how can I not.” I then told him and his wife of the meaning of all on the coin and Jimmy and Dana thought this battle hardened man and wife welled up a bit as you could see it in their eyes. And the coin passed hands and generations all at the same time. It crossed oceans and time itself or so it seemed. The recovery of the dead in Vietnam from so long ago to the dead laid to rest in the deep Pacific Ocean to the Battlefields of Normandy, and other areas of France and Belgium long ago even more. It seemed like this encounter was meant to take place that fated day in Niagara Falls, New York.
I think he liked the coin and of the stories told. I think he liked knowing brothers in arms were recovered from such an old war at such a later date and reunited with their families and or country for the sake of resting one final time and that they truly are never forgotten. I think he liked it.
And then his wife took our picture with the coin. Perhaps one day he will send me a copy of that picture as it was an honor and a privilege to have met and talked to Fred Erickson and his wife Anna May Erickson that day.
Later, I called VFW post 10132 in Hobe Sound, Florida to get a couple of things straight. I needed his wife’s name as regrettably I had forgotten. I spoke with Phil the cantina manager there. He gave me the stuff I needed. He told me his wife’s name; he also told me how the cantina and a memorial at the post were built by Fred and what an overall great couple they were. Phil apparently owns an aluminum and concrete business with the son of Fred and Anna May.
So ended the short dialog I had on 28 July 2013 with Fred Erickson and his wife Anna May Erickson, true to life heroes in this world pressing on as the Navy does! I am personally thanking them for the memories shared as I have retold you here. They are a fascinating couple and I wish them the best of luck in their ventures wherever they may be.
From Jimmy, Dana, and me we all salute you both – Thank you!
Thank you for reading & I hope you enjoyed the story of my encounter with Fred and his wife Anna May. Perhaps I will share a few stories in the future though most not as long as this one of other encounters I have had.
Fred and Anna May Erickson
VFW Post 10132 Hobe Sound Florida
Phil the cantina manager from VFW Post 10132
Naval History and Heritage Command
VFW Post 10132:
YouTube video of CV19 on the Kamikaze attack
Pictures were graciously borrowed from:
Naval History and Heritage Command
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Photo #: NH 89281
USS Hancock (CV-19)
Underway on 15 December 1944, during operations in the Philippines area.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.
Photo : 80-G-328574
USS Hancock (CV-19)
Casualties are buried at sea on 9 April 1945. They were killed when Hancock was hit by a "Kamikaze" while operating off Okinawa on 7 April.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Photo#: NH 76187-KN (color)
Insignia of USS Hancock (CVA-19)
Jacket patch received in 1972.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.