Navy veteran recalls the second tragedy at Pearl Harbor

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Paul Greenwell, a Navy veteran, who lives at National Church Residences Lincoln Village in Columbus.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                                   lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS – Paul Greenwell has no shortage of stories about his time in the Navy.

Diving in Connecticut’s Thames River wearing a homemade helmet constructed out of a five-gallon bucket … time spent on Midway Island in the Pacific watching the rising tide swallow up half of the base airport’s runway for a few hours each day … making a 320-foot dive while in deep sea diving school in Washington D.C. … and so many more.

But it’s the one that almost no one knows about that really brings out the passion in his voice.

“I’ll tell you something that is not in history books,” Greenwell said with a knowing grin as he sat in the community room at National Church Residences Lincoln Village on the west side of Columbus, Ohio. “May 21, 1944 was the second tragedy of Pearl Harbor.”

Known today as the “West Loch disaster,” the incident was kept a classified secret by the United States government for nearly two decades. Details of the disaster were released in 1960, but by then, enough time had passed that it failed to draw much public attention.

“There were 10 LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) loading ammunition at night, at dusk,” Greenwell said.

Although the government never announced an official cause, it is believed that the initial explosion happened when a mortar round on LST-353 detonated during an unloading operation.

The explosion rocked several of the ships, which were being packed with ammunitions in advance of an upcoming mission. Fire quickly spread from ship-to-ship as Sailors and Marines scrambled to get to safety.

“When I got there they were just raising (LST-480),” Greenwell said. “They sent us in, about 12 to 14 divers. We welded patches onto the ship to try and make it water tight.”

As a 2nd Class Diver, Greenwell had extensive experience diving to patch ships that had been damaged.

“One of my jobs was to crawl inside the torpedo tube and slide down inside it to see if there were any nicks,” he said.

This time, the situation was far more dire.

“(Many) lives were lost when those ships went down,” he said. “They were swimming through the burning oil on top of the water.”

As Greenwell and his fellow divers worked frantically to repair the sinking LST 480, he remembers the moment that changed everything.

“I was using a cutting torch on the bulkhead of the ship. I cut into an oil line,” he said. “The two didn’t mix. It exploded.”

Greenwell said a buddy of his was coming out of one of the ship’s hatches with his arms up in the air when the explosion happened.

“He wound up on the tank deck,” he said. “I blew up about 50 foot through the water. I was bleeding bad.”

An injured Greenwell made his way to safety and was examined by a doctor.

“The doctor said I had a slight concussion and I had a perforated ear drum,” he said. “The doctor said I’d get a Purple Heart. I never did get that. It’s OK. I didn’t want one.”

Officially it is said that 163 naval personnel died that day. Other sources have estimated the overall death total to be as high as 392 with an additional 400 wounded – including Greenwell.

A little more than a year later – the day before Thanksgiving 1945, in fact – Greenwell’s three-year Navy career was over and he returned to his job as a lake patrol officer on Illinois’ Lake Decatur before moving on to a bigger career.

“I worked for the federal government for 28 years as an industrial engineer,” he said.

He spent 22 years in active ministry as a pastor and finally became a counsellor at Reynoldsburg High School near Columbus before retiring to Lincoln Village.

“I always wanted to be a diver,” he said, looking back on his military career. “I weighed 119 pounds and the suit weighed 190.”

During his time in the Navy, Greenwell said that he “worked on every submarine in the Pacific fleet.”

Years after his retirement, he toured a decommissioned sub that was on display in Alabama.

“When I was in Mobile on that sub, they had pictures of the old crew members on display,” he said. “I recognized some of the faces.”

A Lifetime of Service to our Country

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Jerry Bullock, a Marine Corps veteran, at home at National Church Residences Lincoln Village in Columbus.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                                lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS – Really, the only people out there who can poke fun at a Marine and get away with it are other Marines.

Jerry Bullock, a resident at National Church Residences Lincoln Village, joined the Marine Corps in 1962 when he and two friends decided to sign up together.

“Me and a couple of other guys at Marion-Franklin High School went in on the buddy system,” Bullock said. “We went to boot camp together, but we were never in the same Quonset hut.”

Bullock excelled as a Marine and began training in Advanced Infantry. It was the location of the boot camp, however, that got them their nickname.

“We went to boot camp in San Diego, California,” he said. “They called everybody who went to San Diego a ‘Hollywood Marine.’”

While he may have jokingly been ‘Hollywood’ at first, Bullock proudly served his country as a Marine, and later a member of the Navy and the National Guard, before a post-military career in civil service.

The memories of his long career?

“I wouldn’t trade them,” Bullock said.

His military experience truly began when after boot camp he was stationed in the Pacific.

“I went to Hawaii where I went into the weapons platoon,” he said. “Anti-tank assaultman. We trained and learned to fire the 3.5 inch, well, they call them bazookas now.”

Essentially a small rocket launcher, Bullock recalls the aftermath of repeatedly firing the weapons.

“I didn’t care for shooting them,” he said. “Wires would hit you in the face after they fired. You’d spend days picking those wires out of your face.”

Bullock spent two years in Hawaii – which was considered overseas duty at the time, even though Hawaii was a state. He followed up his time there for a brief training in Okinawa, Japan, before rotating back to the United States mainland.

“I ended up being an MP (Military Police) at Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station,” he said. “I was a Desk Sergeant in the Military Police.”

Bullock became part of the team that raised and lowered the flag every morning and night and also assisted other Marines with keeping their military IDs up to date. And then there were also the regular duties that came along with being an MP.

“You had to go to the enlisted club where the guys would get rowdy,” he said. “Have to go and keep them from breaking stuff up.”

With his four years of active duty coming to an end, Bullock was transferred back to southern California and Camp Pendleton.

“They wanted to send me to Vietnam,” he said. “But I only had seven months left to serve, so they kept me at Pendleton.”

There he was tasked with helping train Marines to swim while wearing their full equipment.

“It was to simulate abandoning a ship,” he said, adding that he had to act as a lifeguard on more than one occasion when soldiers struggled to stay afloat. “Lots of them. We let them take a little water first. If you don’t, they’ll grab onto you and drown you.”

Bullock was discharged in October 1966 and served two years of inactive duty before joining the Ohio National Guard and then the Navy for a year.

“When I came home I got a job in construction building the new post office here in Columbus,” he said. “With the weather the way it was and construction, I was only working about two days a week. So I took the post office exam and I passed in both Columbus and Grove City.”

Bullock accepted the position with the Columbus Post Office, where he would spend the next decade.

“I carried mail for 11 years until I injured my knee slipping on the ice. So I got disability from the post office. While I was in the Marines, with all the shooting we did, I lost hearing in my ears. So I get a pension from both the post office and the VA.”

From ammo to ‘Doughnut Dollies,’ WWII vet hauled important cargo across Europe

Earl Todt, a World War II veteran at National Church Residences Bristol Village, hauled everything from ammunition to doughnuts and Red Cross girls across Europe.

Earl Todt, a World War II veteran at National Church Residences Bristol Village, hauled everything from ammunition to doughnuts and Red Cross girls across Europe.

By LANCE CRANMER                                           lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

WAVERLY, Ohio – Earl Todt recalls exactly where he was 71 years ago yesterday.

A truck driver in the United States Army during World War II with the 103rd Infantry, Earl was hauling ammunition and a gun crew across Europe in November 1944.

“We went up the Rhone River, up into the mountains of southern France. That’s where we met our first engagement with the Germans. We were shelled for the first time on Armistice Day,” he said, referring to the November 11 holiday that celebrates the end of World War I. “That’s a day I remember very well.”

Earl’s group survived the German attack and pushed further north toward the fighting.

“From there we went various places north through France, wherever there were pockets of Germans,” he said. “During the Battle of the Bulge (which began Dec. 16, 1944) we were in reserve, just south of the Bulge. After that was over we went south in France along the German/French border.”

His unit crossed into Germany and made it safely to Innsbruck, Austria, where they met up with the forces led by Lt. General Mark W. Clark on May 7, 1945.

The journey across war-torn Europe was a daily challenge for Earl and his brothers.

“My closest experience to being injured was one night when our convoy was strafed by a German plane,” he said. “We were told to scatter in the fields on either side of the road. The fields were all filled with shoe mines. We didn’t know that until somebody hit one. The fella running with me was from Texas. He stepped on a shoe mine and it blew his foot off. We were laying there and he was screaming. I laid there all night. I didn’t move. I didn’t know what I would be stepping on. It was pretty messy.”

Earl, a Columbus, Ohio, native, had never intended to be a truck driver. After college he enlisted in the Army Air Corps where he was classified as a navigator.

“About that time, the Army decided they had enough in the Air Corps and they needed ground troops,” he said. “I ended up in the 103rd Infantry and got sent to basic training in the swamps of Mississippi. Then on to Camp Howze near Sherman, Texas.”

It was around this time that Earl’s calling as a driver came to be.

“I realized there was an opening for truck driver in my platoon, so I volunteered for that,” he said. “That became my vocation in the service. My division, after training in Texas, was shipped to New York and our division went to Marseilles, France, where we were part of the 7th Army.”

Many long months later, Earl was through the worst of the fighting and safely stationed in Austria.

While Earl’s services as a truck driver were still in demand, suddenly, his cargo took on a much different role.

“We were an Army of occupation in Austria for the summer. I had a break during that time. And then my truck and I were assigned to a new regiment,” he said. “We were assigned to haul doughnuts and Red Cross girls. I went from Army ammunition to hauling doughnuts and girls across Austria. What a transition.”

As part of morale building efforts, the Red Cross sent out the ladies, affectionately known as “Doughnut Dollies,” to visit the soldiers and pass out doughnuts and coffee.

“After hauling ammunition and a gun crew, the girls were the safest thing I ever transported,” Earl laughed. “I was the envy of our regiment. I never stopped getting razzed for that.”

Earl hauled his cargo for roughly two months through July and August before being transferred to Camp Lucky Strike near Paris.

Shortly after, he was transported home from England to New York City on the RMS Aquitania.

After being discharged in 1946, Earl returned to Columbus.

He retired to National Church Residences Bristol Village in Waverly in 2000.