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Peace was close, but a torpedo was closer

WWII vet recounts time aboard U.S.S. Pennsylvania

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November 14, 2012 - Peace was just two days away when Albert Anderson got his last taste of battle in World War II.

The 91-year-old Oxford resident was a Marine serving aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania (BB-38) when a Japanese plane slipped in undetected and hit the super-dreadnought battleship with a 2,000-pound torpedo while it was anchored in Buckner Bay, Okinawa.

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"I just came out of the shower," Anderson said. "I had a pair of white shower shorts on and Japanese wood shoes. I just reached up to open my locker door and boy, that ship went sky high. I didn't hear anything. It just went up."

The attack happened on Aug. 12, 1945. The Japanese Empire officially announced its surrender on Aug. 14.

The torpedo's impact left a hole approximately 30 feet in diameter in the Pennsylvania's stern. Many compartments were flooded.

Anderson is lucky he lived to tell the tale.

Others were not so fortunate. The attack killed 20 men and wounded 10 others.

Anderson noted it's a good thing the ship was in the shallower waters of a bay as opposed to the middle of the ocean, where the average depth is about 2.65 miles.

If the latter had been the case, the ship probably would have slipped into a watery grave and many of those aboard might have either drowned or been eaten by sharks.

"A battleship in the U.S. Navy has no lifeboats. None. Not even one," he said. "If a ship goes down, everybody goes down with it or gets in the water."

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania's flooding was brought under control by repair parties and the assistance of two salvage tugboats.

Despite this experience, Anderson said life on a battleship was pretty good overall.

"On board a ship, you've got a mattress and three squares – and you get to watch a movie at night," he said.

Anderson preferred that to the idea of "living in a foxhole," which he equated to "camping out" while being "shot at all the time."

He spent a year aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania between 1944 and 1945. There, he only had two duties. During battle, he helped man the 20-millimeter and 40-millimeter guns.

His job was to load shells.

The rest of the time he was one of eight men who served as the captain's guard.

"I didn't have to do anything else (like) wash dishes, scrub floors or make beds, I just guarded the captain," he said. "It was the best job on the ship."

Anderson never rose above the rank of private first class and that was just fine with him.

"I didn't want to be anything else," he said. "You get a (promotion) and the next thing you know, you're making decisions."

During his time aboard the Pennsylvania, Anderson said the main thing the ship did was bombard Japanese positions on islands like Wake, Saipan and Tinian.

"Every time we went by Wake Island, we shot the hell out of it because it was full of Japs," he said.

That fit right in with the spirit of why so many young men volunteered for military service during WWII. They wanted to get even for Japan's dastardly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

"Everybody went to war to shoot Japs – you don't go to get killed. Getting killed doesn't even enter your mind until you get ready to go overseas," Anderson said. "I thought they'd run'em out there and bam, bam, bam – like shooting clay pigeons."

Anderson was one of those who volunteered.

He tried to sign up for the Marines in 1942, but they weren't accepting married men who had children at that time.

He finally got called up in 1944 at age 23.

Anderson was glad to enter the service because he was tired of people just assuming he was 4-F.

"Anybody that wasn't in a uniform was a 4-Fer, but I wasn't 4-F at all," he said.

4-F was the classification given to young men who were rejected for military service because they had either physical or mental defects that made them unfit for duty. Those who were classified as such were often looked down upon. Being 4-F definitely had a social stigma attached to it.

Although he didn't find out about it until many years later, Anderson served aboard the same ship as longtime television host and comedian Johnny Carson. Carson mentioned it one night on "The Tonight Show."

"I didn't know him," Anderson said. "There were a lot of people on the ship."

Following the war, Anderson spent 43 years as a truck driver, hauling goods around Michigan and into Ohio.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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