Monday, March 11, 2019

My Great Uncle at Pearl Harbor

This is a great story of my great uncle Gordon Gehrke who joined the Navy in 1937 after High School in Merrill, Wisconsin. He was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Here is his story told in his own words.

“In 1940 the USS MEDUSA got orders to join a convoy of ships and proceed to Pearl Harbor, HI. This was good duty; liberty every other day and every other weekend. Honolulu was a dreamy little city with Waikiki beach, the Ala Mauna Hotel, Hilo Hattie and one good golf course, Ala Wai which was a public facility. Harry Owens big band used to play at the Ala Mauna Hotel. In another part of Honolulu was Hotel Street mostly frequented by enlisted Navy guys. There were plenty of bars, "Gin Mills" as the Navy guys used to say and for $2.00 you could walk upstairs in almost any old hotel and have your choice of a blonde, brunette or redhead!

In Hawaii, I played a lot of golf. On December 7th, 1941 we were playing at Ala Wai, real early in the morning as usual. We had already finished the first nine holes when we noticed all these planes (aircraft) flying over the Pali and heading toward Pearl Harbor. We didn't think too much about it because we knew that a couple of our carriers (Aircraft Carriers) were expected to be coming into Pearl Harbor. We all remarked about the same thing; there come our carrier planes. About the time we got to about to the 9th hole we heard these muffled, loud explosions. We remarked that the stupid army was holding gunnery practice on a Sunday morning. Even when we saw the huge columns of black smoke rising off in the direction of Pearl Harbor, we remarked that the stupid C.B’s were burning tires again! This was all happening very quickly and it wasn't until we saw all these jeeps and military police out on the golf course and the M.P's asking if any of us were in the military. We all remarked that we were regular Navy and we were promptly told to get our ass back to our ship or base!

I don't remember exactly what I did with my golf clubs, bag and shoes but I guess I left them there at the Ala Wai Club House and put my regular civilian shoes back on and headed for the next taxi that would take me back to Pearl Harbor. It was the fastest seven-mile ride I ever had in my life! When I reached the gate to the dock at Pearl Harbor, I began to run to get on the next motor launch that would take me to the USS MEDUSA. No one could comprehend what was happening. The Japanese planes were making their bombing runs, anti-aircraft guns were rattling, and battleship row was wiped out. Thick black oil covered the water. I noticed that the mattresses that were in the motor launch were covered with blood from the wounded that had been transported from some of the ships. I won't elaborate except to say that it was chaotic.

The USS MEDUSA was not a combat ship but we had one five inch battery and some 20 and 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns on the ship. My battle station was topside with a set of headphones to relay messages from the bridge. I recall a two-man Japanese submarine that surfaced or tried to surface near the MEDUSA. We helped` sink that sub that was later raised for the records.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A Family Lost to Time Rediscovered

Growing up as a military child is a great life that has some great advantages. Still, one disadvantage is being separated from extended family and never getting really to know them.  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change a thing. I have traveled, seen a world that most will never know, and continue to do so.  Still, it is something missing from my life.  Now that I have grandchildren, I'm reflecting on my relationship with my grandparents, with whom I really never got to spend much time.  I don't remember my father's dad at all, and my mother's father only vaguely.

Now that I have had a military career and gave my son's the same experience, I must give their children a window into my world and generation.  Something that wasn't entirely lost to me, only because I got to spend a few summers with my Fathers, mother, my grandmother.

Grandmother Anderson, who stayed with us during the summer in Washington State. She would come out to go salmon fishing with my father and me, one of the great experiences in my young life.  There were many times just like this one. 

I had hooked a big King Salmon when the three of us were fishing.  It was probably 30 lbs or more.  While I was fighting it, she talked about how she was going to cook and can it.  I got that fish right up to the boat, and it got off the hook. Well, you can imagine she was a little upset and let me have an ear full.  It is one of those things you'll always remember, "Curtis!!  X(&^%$ why did you let that fish get off? You should have given the fishing pole to your father!!!." my Dad and I just laughed.

When we were home, she would tell me stories about growing up and the great depression, all while teaching me how to play blackjack and poker.   I remember her stories about living in Milwaukee, where she met her husband, Robert Anderson. When the Great Depression happened, she and my Grandfather had to leave and go home to her hometown of Merrill.  Everybody lost everything because all the jobs disappeared overnight.  She was part of the depression era generation that would no longer borrow money for anything.

Her father and Mother, August and Gottliebe Skowronek, gave them a plot of land to build a house in Merrill. She worked at a Tannery, a glove factory, and then a Shoe Factory in her life.  Robert Anderson started a successful Wrought Iron Business.    You can still see some of his work on the stairs and porches of houses in Merrill today.

My father, who didn't want any part of the small-town life, joined the Navy; he and my mother left Northern Wisconsin for good.  My father never really looked back, just like his grandfather, who left Germany.  They were headed to Hawaii, where I was born. Just imagine Hawaii in the late 1950s; what an adventure.

She also told stories about her father and mother, who immigrated in the late 1800s.  I know that she said that her parents came to the USA because of little prospect in Europe.  After doing his required service in the German Army in the 1880s, he was allowed to immigrate.  It is a good thing that they did, avoiding the carnage of both WWI and WWII. That area of East Prussia that is now Poland was decimated by WWII, with every one of German heritage being expelled.  I learned a long time ago, life is always about timing, with some luck thrown in.

Note that if it wasn't for the research of Jean Klebenow in the 1990's I probably would not have many details of August and Gottliebe Skowronek.