Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. The first part ran on July 29. Both stories can be found at www.observertoday.com
Being on a battleship, one experiences sights and sounds that are unbelievable. When a battleship fires its 16-inch guns, the entire ship leans to one side and a ball of fire shoots up in the air. The sound is so loud that one must be warned in advance before the round gets fired. After the round leaves the ship, the 16-inch round the size of a Volkswagon shoots out to a distance of 8 to 10 miles. When it hits the targets, shrapnel can cover a mile. The battleship is so large that when Wesley wanted to turn, he would have to steer opposite to compensate the turn.
When the war was over, Wesley George and the South Dakota sailed into Tokyo Bay to sit beside the Japanese battleship the Nagata, a good distance away from the mighty Mo. The surrender sign brought a little excitement to Wesley and the crew.
The captain ordered the men to board the Nagata and just observe. Board your enemy's battleship in its home port after it just surrendered brings butterflies to one's stomach. The Tokyo visit lasted for three weeks, and then they headed home.
Being on a battleship had some advantages. Usually you were attached to a carrier group which brought plenty of air coverage. Along with that there was a group of cruisers next to you with tons of fire power. A few miles out from you, there were about six to seven destroyers. Last but not least, you had a few submarines, just in case.
From Japan the ship received a few days of well-earned liberty. The new port Wesley was sailing into was Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian islands where the South Dakota was topped off with fuel and restocked with food. Then it sailed under the Golden Gate, which was one of the happiest days for Wesley. They spent a few days in Frisco to resupply the ship and then set sail for her return to her home port of Norfolk, Va.
Wesley returned home and restarted his life.
Sitting down with Wesley in his back yard and having him take me back to his time in the Navy reminded me of my two experiences with battleships when I served in Vietnam. I told him about those experiences. While on the hospital ship the USS Sanctuary off Vietnam in the South China Sea, a notice came over the loud speaker warning us patients that the USS Wisconsin, which was sailing six miles away, would be firing a volley of 16-in rounds. We were warned that any below decks would experience extremely loud pings and if it were possible to get to the decks above water where the pings would be tolerable. We had to take marking sticks with silk squares on them near the DMZ and have them placed in a pattern that covered one square mile. The USS New Jersey fired in our one-mile grid, and our duties were to record her accuracy by the damage the New Jersey's rounds made by sending shrapnel after her rounds hit.
One has to see what power this mighty type of ship had. It was the king of all naval fleets until the Japanese proved the aircraft carrier to be superior. We are down to a handful of battleships, only nine remaining. For one to see what life was like on a battleship, one needs to board one. Our remaining battleships that can be boarded consists of the Massachusets, the New Jersey, the Missouri, the Wisconsin, the Texas, the North Carolina, the Alabama and the Iowa.
After reading the ships log, I discovered that the South Dakota had seen action in over 45 Pacific islands. It also had docked in over 55 docks in her war years.
This ship and sailor did their duty and served their country well. Before his retirement Wesley served as a commander of the VFW post in Angola. After retirement he dedicated most of his time to woodworking and completely remodeling two farm houses. For his dedication and service to our country, we salute Wesley George as our hero of the week.