Art Elchek, Guest Columnist
THE WAR IS OVER … finally the war is over, and the fortunate ones will return home.
No more “Four on and eight off” watches to stand. No more “General Quarters” alerts a half hour before sunrise or sunset, or any other odd hour of the day or night.
I was serving aboard the USS Silenus (PT Boat Tender) servicing squadrons 32 and 37. We had operated in the Solomon Islands (Bougainville) for many months, and now our boats were operating at the North end of Okinawa. The Japanese surrendered in the month of August, and of course, we all wished for a rapid return to The United States. But first we received orders to escort the 24 PT boats to the Philippines for dismantling and destruction. However, a few of us were allowed to leave the ship before it sailed for the Philippines.
We departed Buckner Bay, in Southern Okinawa, and 17 days later, we docked at San Pedro, California. We were greeted by many Red Cross ladies who served us pints of milk and doughnuts. The ladies laughed when we shook the milk cartons, saying “You don’t have to do that anymore.” Anyway, we didn’t have a parade … but who cared? The next day we boarded a train … next stop, Great Lakes Naval Base, Chicago, Illinois.
I remember our first night aboard the train. We had been traveling through the California desert. The train thundered through the night as we looked out the windows at the full moon that lit up the landscape. I am sure that I wasn’t the only sailor that stayed up very late that first night alone with thoughts of what the future might hold. Eventually silence took over and the entire car was very quiet … each person alone with his thoughts. Wives, children who had been born in recent months, girlfriends, parents — all thoughts permeated our minds. It was strange, we should be whooping it up, but in reality, the silence was so thick you could cut it with a knife. How would we handle this new and strange world that we were soon to enter?
It was an enjoyable trip, but we did have a few problems. We happened to run out of food during the fourth day and we had nothing to eat for 30 hours. When we arrived at Great Lakes, a special mess hall was opened and we were treated like, “Long Lost Cousins.”
The next few days went by slowly. Physical exams, lectures on what to expect in the new outside world, and a bunch of papers to sign. The day after Thanksgiving I was mustered out of the Navy … three years, 11 months, and five days had elapsed since I had first enlisted … but who was counting?
Aftermath: I went home to Gary, Indiana, and worked, for a while, in the US Steel mill. My foreman suggested that I quit the mill and further my education. My co-workers gave me a sendoff along with a ski sweater (which I still have today.) Drake University accepted me and I got my degree a few years later. South Korea was invaded and I was recalled to service. I didn’t get to Korea, but I spent the better part of the next two years north of the Arctic Circle helping with construction of the DEW LINE. (Distant Early Warning.) We operated as far north as Thule … which is the most northwest tip of Greenland.
WOW! Six years of my life … on ONE PAGE!
Arthur J. “Art” Elchek, 89, lives in Tyler. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked and served aboard PT boats in the Pacific. In recent years, he has lectured on World War II at area high schools.