November 11, 2010
World War II vets share pride of Pacific service
Men who worked in boiler rooms on separate ships have become good friends since the war
Frank Leone and John Lansdowne did not know each other during their three years aboard separate Navy ships in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, but have become good friends decades later and are proud to be among a generation whose numbers continue to dwindle.
“I think we both know we all gotta go, nobody’s here forever,” said Lansdowne, 85, of Truxton.
Both men said that makes remembering those who served in wartime all the more important on Veterans Day, which is being observed today.
“After what we did, we’re proud to go through a Veterans Day every year,” said Leone, 92, of Locke. “We’re very close and it’s amazing how we both were doing the same duties.”
Leone and Lansdowne enlisted in 1943 and were assigned to fight the Japanese in the Pacific and ended up as water tenders working the boiler rooms of their ships — Lansdowne aboard an aircraft carrier USS Marcus Island and Leone aboard the fleet oiler vessel USS Victoria.
At that point during the war, the military was running low on troops, which was the driving reason both men enlisted. Both held the rank of water tender, Leone at first-class and Lansdown at second-class.
“It was hell ... to be honest, I didn’t expect to come back,” Lansdowne said of his war experience. “This old aircraft carrier I was on, we got hit three times by the kamikazes from the air.”
Leone said his ship would keep hidden from the enemy during the daytime in shallow waters and venture out at night to meet the fleet, reloading fuel and performing maintenance.
The idea, he said, was to keep safe, but that was not always possible. His first experience of coming under heavy enemy fire proved disastrous one moonlit night.
“We were on the Filipino side of a mountain and they got our sister ship sunk — and we were fortunate they didn’t get us,” Leone said. “That was the first time something happened close to us.”
Lansdowne said armor-piercing rounds tore straight through the vessel during one battle with Japanese forces. He believes the oiler ship Leone served aboard performed the maintenance on his aircraft carrier afterward.
Service in the Pacific brought other dangers besides the bullets fired from Japanese ships and kamikaze air pilots.
“We had typhoons and the sea was swelling up and down real bad,” Leone said. “Good thing we were down below (the ship), because we lost two boys overboard one time.”
But amid the trauma and death of war, Lansdowne did escape with one good memory that still makes him chuckle decades later.
He has a vivid mental image of a yeoman he served with who jokingly dressed in the uniform of a female Naval officer, known as a WAVE, on one occasion and waved to sailors and crewmen aboard a fuel tanker from the aircraft carrier’s flight deck.
“And then word got out and we had a cameraman who took his picture and that went into the Saturday Evening Post,” Lansdowne said.
If there is one regret they have about the years after World War II, it is the current poor condition of the United States economy and the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We were very proud when we came home and we did the right thing — but today, the politicians are putting us in conflicts we shouldn’t,” Leone said, referring to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We thought be American, buy American, and if we did that, we wouldn’t be in the shape we are today.”
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