Stephen Martin wrote the following about 20 years ago for a young niece. Her class project was to interview a family member who has served in World War II.
Steve was a Whitehall native. He returned from the war, got a job on the railroad, and he and his wife, Betty (Snody) raised their twins, Michael and Mary. He passed away a few years ago.
Steve’s World War II memory (in his own words)
At 17, I joined the C.C.C. for young men who could not get a job. This was toward the end of the big depression. This was the Civilian Conservation Corps. I was in there for 18 months. One year I spent in Bolton Landing and six months in a little town called Whitehall, Montana, 30 miles south of Butte.
The first three months I was on a four-man surveying crew. Then I got to supply sergeant that raised my pay from $30 a month to $36 a month. This was a time when men were bringing up families on $48 a month.
I saw President Roosevelt when he was governor of New York on an inspection crew of the Champlain Barge Canal.
We were coming out of the movies on Sunday afternoon when we heard the Japanese had bombed the ships at Pearl Harbor. We thought they would apologize the next day. We had no idea how bad we had been hit at Pearl Harbor. Then news was not like today. It would be days before we saw the newsreels of Pearl Harbor.
We all were fighting mad and couldn’t wait to get in the service. Martin Gallagher, my best friend, and I went to join up in January 1942. We were sent to Great Lakes for our boot training. It was supposed to be 10 weeks but was cut to five weeks. I was in boot camp when they asked for volunteers for M.T.B. duty. This was P.T. school at Melville, R.I. I went to gunner mate school and then started training for P.T. duty. This duty was a little more dangerous than regular Navy duty.
New Year’s Eve we graduated from Melville and shipped to New York. We got liberty and we all went to Times Square. This was a quite a thrill for a boy from the hills.
Our squadron was built at Bayonne, N.J. We left New York and went to Panama. We went through the Canal and training on the Pacific side for four more weeks and then left for combat.
We were sent to New Guinea to patrol at night to cut off Japanese barges that were supplying their troops. We would go as far as 25 miles behind the Japanese lines.
On Oct. 12, 1943, we were sent to Cape Glasgow in New Britain to get sounding for an invasion that was to take place on Christmas Day. Our radar man picked up four targets on the radar screen and we were going inside the harbor to sink these ships. The one thing we did not know was that our radar did not pick up two Japanese destroyers that were guarding the harbor. We got together to talk over the plan. We were going out to sea and then swing in the harbor and let go our eight fish the P.T. boats carry. Then we turned to the sea. The Japanese thought we were leaving.
All at once there was a roar of gunfire and a searchlight you could read a book by.
We started to get the hell away from there and our smoke screen generator was broke and we could not cover ourselves with some. The other P.T. boat was not getting any fire. Our skipper told him our smoke screen was not working and that skipper of the other boat did the bravest thing any man could do. He came back with his boat right into the gunfire and covered us with his smoke.
Still, the Japanese were shooting at us and we were hit on the stern of the boat. At the time Ken Colton was killed and Ted Bookski and George Edmonds were wounded.
We heard our skipper say we would hit the beach and work our way through Jap lines back to our own base. The one thing that saved us was the Japanese thought we were headed for home. We took the other side of the island further into the country and with the help of God lost them and headed back to our own lines. When we got to our base we all knew the feeling we had that night would be with us as long as we lived.
As we buried our dead the next day you had to ask yourself, “Why him and not me?”
We finished the tour of duty and were sent home for five weeks. We were sent back and the night the war was over we were in Borneo.
The ships in the harbor began firing their guns. We all raced toward our P.T. boats thinking the Japanese had broken through the beachhead. We started the motors and uncovered the guns when the skipper came running down and told us the Japanese had offered to surrender. At last, it was over.
The next day they held a victory Mass; the most well-attended Mass I ever saw in my life.