World War Two vet ended conflict in Japanese waters
“We sailed north and then west, into the straits just north of the main Japanese island of Honshu. We were in a formation of maybe 40 ships following a dozen minesweepers which cleared the …
World War Two vet ended conflict in Japanese waters
“We sailed north and then west, into the straits just north of the main Japanese island of Honshu. We were in a formation of maybe 40 ships following a dozen minesweepers which cleared the way. We then turned south and back east anchoring about 300 yards offshore in Ominato Bay. We anchored with both anchors so that we did not turn with the tidal currents. Although the war had ended just days before, no one was sure what awaited them when they arrived in Japan. We did not know what to expect and stayed on a war footing for three days. Then the word came down…all ships could turn on their lights at night, then we knew, it was over.”
So described 93-year old, World War Two Navy veteran, Bob Spearman, the last days of WWII. As he spoke, the details were as sharp as if the events had happened yesterday.
Spearman is one of the few WWII veterans yet living. Listening to him recount the events of his service was riveting as his recollections were so authentic and full of detail.
Now staying fit with upkeep on his home in the community of Hamilton, just over in Franklin County, Spearman recounted the path that led him to Japanese waters in late 1945.
A 17-year old volunteer just out of high school, Spearman was designated as one of five casualty replacements for the USS HUDSON. After a long train ride from Shreveport to San Diego for boot camp, he was embarked on a troopship out of San Francisco and began the long journey across the Pacific.
Weeks later he arrived at the fleet anchorage at Eniwetok, Marshall Islands. There, a motor whaleboat delivered him to his new home, the Fletcher class destroyer, HUDSON. He climbed up a Jacob’s ladder and joined the crew.
The HUDSON (DD 475) was a decorated ship, having participated in most of the major actions in the Pacific war. With a crew of 300, the 2,100-ton ship had earned an excellent reputation for her wartime service. She earned nine battle stars and was credited with two submarine sinkings, numerous aircraft downings and significant bombardments throughout the island campaign.
“The crew was very patient and very professional,” Spearman recalled. Soon after taking the newcomers aboard, the ship sailed for battle drills to ensure each new crew member understood and could excel at their assigned battle stations.
“I was a powder loader for the Number 3, amidships, 5-inch gun,” he stated. “It took several of us, in close quarters, to efficiently send the powder bags up into the gun housing for loading. It was kind of a dance.”
Assigned for daily duties in the Deck Division, Spearman worked maintaining the forward topside section (forecastle) of the ship. He was also berthed in the most forward berth of the ship.
“You really felt all the motion of the ship when berthed all the way forward,” he admitted. “If we hit something, I would be the first to know,” he smiled.
That was a real danger. Spearman also stood whale watch and mine watch in what is called the “eyes of the ship.”
Before departing with the task group for the Japanese homeland, the HUDSON had taken aboard pallets of cold weather gear.
“I should have figured that there was a reason for that,” he stated. After a short stay in Ominato Bay, the HUDSON was detached to the Aleutian Islands.
Enroute to the Aleutians, the ship destroyed several floating mines and picked up a number of airmen who had crashed at sea.
They also survived a massive typhoon.
“I was normally too busy to be scared of anything,” Spearman recounted, “except for that typhoon off Alaska.”
He described the whirring sound of the ship’s twin screws when, due to the storm, the stern of the ship would come completely out of the water.
“Of course we couldn’t cook in the storm, so those of us who could eat, ate canned ham and bread,” he recalled.
While in the North Pacific, HUDSON made a port visit to Skagway, Alaska, far up the Lynn Canal north of Juneau.
“The people of Skagway treated us like royalty,” he admitted. In a truly unique happenstance, years later Spearman met a woman who, as a little girl in Skagway, remembered that visit by the ship at the end of the war.
After a dry-docking in Bremerton, Wash., the HUDSON sailed to San Diego and was decommissioned.
Spearman’s most vivid memories of his service were his shipmates. Over the years, he had the opportunity to visit with a couple of former shipmates, Van West and James Byrom.
During his time in HUDSON, he also was befriended by the Boatswain Mate Chief Petty Officer Patrick John Ryan. Spearman described the unique friendship which developed between the diminutive Spearman and Ryan, who was a giant of a man as well as Spearman’s supervisor.
“Ryan could neither read nor write,” Spearman acknowledged, “so I came to both read him letters he received from his girlfriend and write his letters to her.”
The unique arrangement must have been effective, as Spearman related that Ryan married his girlfriend after the war.
Spearman also married, taking Agnes Hertz of San Antonio as his bride.
“It was a perfect marriage,” he admitted, “she was a most wonderful woman.”
The couple raised two children and came to live in his father’s farmhouse in the Hamilton community.
In a place of honor in his home is a photograph of Agnes sitting in a big chair reading a book. Spearman had taken the photo himself.
“She loved books, and read every day,” he stated. “I even put up a small building to house her books.”
When asked for thoughts about his long life, Spearman first credited heredity. His father, Robert Ray Spearman, a Commerce native and World War I combat veteran, passed away at 101 years of age.
“He was a real windjammer,” Spearman commented.
Beyond good genes, Spearman offered the following adages: “Don’t owe anyone anything, stay independent, and live for today. He additionally noted that good friends – like Phyllis Donica, Larry Neal, Rick Todd and the Gibbs family – and moderation were necessary components to healthy living.
“I have never been a patient in a hospital,” he proudly admitted.
Spearman had taken the step of recounting his memories in an audio recording for the benefit of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He offered to share these experiences here in the hopes that they will also educate and entertain friends and neighbors.