Veterans' Day
Sarah Thompson, M.D.

Sent to me By Dale Bruce

I woke up not long past dawn today, Veteran's Day, in order to put our flag outside on display.  It was bleak and gray and raining.  I couldn't put the flag out in such weather, so I searched the house for a small, hand sized flag and put it in the front window.  I couldn't let the day go unheralded.

Later in the day, I called my father-in-law to wish him a happy Veteran's Day and to thank him for the sacrifices he made.  To be perfectly honest, he's the only combat veteran with whom I've ever had a personal relationship, a fact that I find vaguely embarrassing.

I can't honestly say I don't know any other veterans.  There are 20.3 million living "wartime" veterans just in this country, so statistically I must know quite a few.  I've had patients who were veterans, as well as a few neighbors, casual acquaintances and Internet correspondents.  My parents served honorably during World War II, but they stayed safely in this country.

And it's not that I don't know anything about war or fear of war. Some of my earliest memories are of cowering in abject terror in the halls of my elementary school, air raid sirens screeching and wailing, while we "practiced" for an attack none of us would have survived had it actually come.  Planes flying low overhead still make me nervous. I came of age during the Vietnam War, and I vividly remember the draft lottery during my senior year of high school.  I, of course, was against the war, went on peace marches, and had a total contempt for things military. For this I apologize.  I did try to imagine what it would be like to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, and this project was made somewhat easier since fate and my birthday conspired to give me a very low lottery number; had I been male, I would certainly have been drafted. But I'm female, and I have bad vision and flat feet.  Besides, "only other" people went to war.  People like me went to college and got deferments.  A male classmate of mine shared my exact birth date and lottery number; he went to college and law school and now has a successful practice in Beverly Hills.  Despite my teenage rhetoric about us all being "brothers and sisters", I lived in a very classist society. I try sometimes to make excuses for my shameful behavior.  I was, after all, just a stupid, impressionable teenager who'd never been taught to think critically.  Nobody that I knew had ever fought in a war.  And unlike some, I was never rude or hostile to servicemen or veterans.  How could anyone expect me to know better at the wise old age of 17 or 18?

Well, when Bill, my father-in-law, turned 18 in 1943, he had to fill out his selective service papers.  His father repeatedly warned him that if he answered the questions the way he was answering them, he would be among the first drafted.  His response was that there was a war going on, it was his duty to serve, and he might as well do it. Maybe getting yourself drafted into a war at 18 isn't very smart either, but it's certainly a lot more honorable than the way my friends and I behaved.

Three months later, on the day after his mother's funeral, he left for boot camp. My older son is now just a month younger than his grandfather was then. He's a good kid, an honor student, a football player, and I think he understands a lot more about life than I did when I was his age.  But I still don't think he could pick up and leave to fight a war the day after his mother's funeral.  I'm grateful that he won't have to do so.   I'm grateful to all the men and women who fought under conditions still unimaginable to me, so that my generation and my children's generation, have  the luxury of being softer.

Bill was eventually assigned to the USS Scuffle, one of the minesweepers of Division 34 (Pacific Fleet) which saw extremely heavy and dangerous duty. He served on this good ship from the day it was commissioned, May 2, 1944 until the day it was decommissioned in roughly February 1946.  The USS Scuffle was 180 feet long and 40 feet wide, and from the water to the top of  the radar mast was 90 feet; in other words, it wasn't very big. Division 34 swept and cleared the harbor at Leyte Island in the Philippines for Macarthur's return and victory in October 1944, but the USS Scuffle wasn't able to participate in this engagement because of generator problems.  She arrived Dec. 31 to join the division. 


From Bill's diary: (Note: all diary entries are unedited except where necessary to clarify meaning.)

31 Dec. 1944:  "Arrived in Leyte, P.I.  New Years eve.  Had air raids all night.  We were at General Quarters (Note: General Quarters refers to manning your assigned post continuously, i.e. "battle stations") all night. My General Quarters assignment was as loader on a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun, which also consisted of the gunner who was strapped into the handlebars of the gun in a standing position, and the trunnion operator who could raise and lower the gun base with a crank to make it possible for the gunner to remain standing at all times, unless he had to shoot straight up in which case he hung by the strap to the handle bars.  The trunnion operator also wore the head phones and repeated all the orders received from the bridge. It was also his and my job to replace the barrel when it got too hot.  I would remove the hot barrel wearing a large pair of asbestos gloves and place it in a special container filled with water to cool, while the trunnion operator would grab the spare barrel which was cool and reinsert it into the gun."

03 Jan. 1945:  "Seven Jap planes came over at 0730, mostly suicide dive bombers.  They were concentrating on an Oil Tanker which was about 100 yards off our starboard bow.  They were close enough to see the bomb when they released it, and could watch the bomb's trajectory as it fell.  We were shooting at these planes when they got in range, we could see pieces flying off them when they were hit.  If they could see they were not going to make it to the larger targets they were after they would turn on anything close enough they thought they could get to.  Two of these planes crashed in the water within yards of our ship.  I saw a wheel bouncing on the water like the water was cement, a wing came off and skipped over the water like a surfboard.  All seven planes were shot down.  When it was over two men were dead on the tanker, and a few were wounded on a YMS (Note: a "yard mine sweeper", a type of wooden minesweeper used because it didn't attract magnetic mines).   Have the ensign at half mast in honor of the dead, who were buried at sea."

05 Jan. 1945:  "About 1700 seven more Jap planes attacked us, five were shot down.  We got credited with shooting four of them down coming at us in suicide runs.  All our gunners got credit for possible hits.  I had all kinds of hell scared out of me, for the first time I could see that we were fighting for keeps.  Had GQ all night and I slept by my gun.  I feel like I'm forty instead of nineteen.  This is HELL." The next day, the USS Scuffle and its men began sweeping mines from Lingayen Gulf, in preparation for the Allied invasion.

06 Jan. 1945:  "We entered Lingayen Gulf and started to sweep for mines. Plenty of suicide planes today, quite a few ships sunk and many men lost." 

09 Jan. 1945: "D-day - Troops landed on the beach in the early morning. Not one man lost in the first seven waves... We are now patrolling for subs...More suicide planes.  Japs trying to sink ships with suicide Q-boats loaded with TNT, also swimmers with TNT strapped to there backs.  They got a transport and a few other ships anchored tonight.  Over 1000 ships in this invasion."

12 Jan. 1945: "Had another suicide air raid.  Two more ships hit. Underway with a convoy for Leyte.  Haven't slept for 3 days." 

13-15 Feb. 1945:  "Underway at 0300 for bombardment of Corregidor. (Note: Corregidor was an island fortress in Manila Bay which had been surrendered to Japan in May 1942)  Swept right up to the shores off Corregidor... Japs began firing at us with shore batteries from all sides... Shells splashing in the water all around us.  Once in a while I hear one whistle over head... Our 3 inch gun got so damn hot we had to quit firing for fear the barrel would burst.  Some damn close misses on us and a little shrapnel.  One of our smaller sweepers a YMS hit a mine and sank... Paratroopers landed on Bataan today.  Japs firing on us again today with every thing they have, we're so close to shore they are using small arm fire.  There must be something wrong with them, we're so damn close and they still keep missing us."

16 Feb. 1945: "Thousands of Paratroopers landing on Corregidor.  The island has turned white with all the parachutes covering it." When Bill talks about this day, he describes the paratroopers landing in such tight formation that they seemed to be descending stairs.  He comments that he was "glad" to be on a ship because it was "more comfortable"! 

24-25 Feb. 1945:  "Was the first Allied ship to enter Manila Bay since the Japs took over... We also passed a lot of Japs a lot dead and a lot still alive and trying to reach Corregidor.  We offered to take them aboard as Prisoners but they refused.  They managed to throw a hand grenade aboard one of the sweepers and several of their crew were injured.  Needless to say none of that bunch ever made it to Corregidor or any place else."

26 Feb. 1945:  "AM295, Division Commander of Mine Division 34 hit a mine in the mouth of Manila Bay...  Ship was a hell of a sight.  The mine had exploded about amidships on the starboard side approximately six feet under water.  It blew a hole about 12 ft. in diameter right up through the after engine room, blowing the engine right up through two more decks and overboard.  Standing on the deck looking into the hole, it looked like a large swimming pool right in the middle of the ship.

Remember, almost every single day the USS Scuffle swept mines in addition to whatever else was going on.  This type of danger was what they faced on "boring" days!

13 Mar. 1945:  "Swept around the rock (Corregidor) again today.  Blew up 13 mines.  This routine getting a little dull." 01 April 1945:  "Promoted to Coxswain today, this is equivalent to a third class petty officer."

I read this and remember that all my war protestor friends and I wore "CPO jackets" as a fashion/political statement.  CPO stands for "Chief Petty Officer".  I feel sick and ashamed.

The diary continues, detailing duty in Manila, Subic Bay, Leyte, Balabac Straits, the Dutch East Indies, Brunei Bay, Borneo, Moratori Island and other places that are just names to me, places I'd be hard-pressed to find quickly on a map.

08 May 1945: "Received a couple of beers to celebrate the surrender of Germany."

08 June 1945: "AM294 has hit a mine.  Seven men were killed and every man on board was injured.  There are only 4 ships left in our division.  WHO'S NEXT?

06 August 1945:  (While in Subic Bay)  "Received word today that the United States had dropped a Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan that had destroyed the entire city.  We had never heard any thing like this before.  Rumors were flying every where, but no one seemed to know for sure just how this could happen. We finally got the word that this was an "Atomic Bomb"!  A new secret weapon that the USA been working on for a few years."

09 August 1945:  Received word again today that the United States had dropped a second Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki, Japan destroying the entire city, with thousands of casualties.  The scuttlebutt is that we were getting ready to invade Japan, and we were supposed to move up to Okinawa to group up for the invasion.  We knew when this happens there will be hell to pay.  This new secret weapon may change their minds about carrying the war on much longer.  WE HOPE.


24 August 1945:  "Birthday, 20 years old today."

02 Sept. 1945:  "JAPS OFFICIALLY SURRENDERS.  Big celebration, flares, whistles, etc.  Every one is happy."

For the next month, the ships endured nearly constant typhoons, with many ships wrecked and many men lost despite the "peace".  The USS Scuffle was a very small ship, not well equipped for handling typhoons, but she and her crew survived.

20 Oct. 1945:  "Arrived at Sasebo, Kyushu, Japan, pretty nice harbor, way in land.  Typhoons can't reach in here.  Went on liberty today, not much to do though.  From the looks of this place Halsey's planes did a good job.  Japs everywhere, but they mind their own business, (what's left of it).  All the buildings are blown down to their foundations, hardly any thing left standing...  Am told that Sasebo is less than 30 miles from Nagasaki where the second "A" bomb was dropped."

09 Dec. 1945:  "Strung up our HOMEWARD BOUND" pennant.

12 Jan. 1946:  "Arrived at San Diego, Calif.  Back in the States at last."

So there you have it - almost the entire history of the War in the Pacific, as seen through the eyes of a nineteen year old.  I've read the diary more times than I can count.  I cry every time.  And I still have no idea of what it's like to spend 24 hours a day with my gun, eating hard bread and Spam, and trying to catch a few hours sleep while Kamikaze pilots and shells fill the air and deadly mines lurk beneath the surface of the water. Any relatives I had in Europe who survived the pogroms were most likely killed by the Nazis, and any who survived the Nazis were killed by the Allies' neglect or Stalin's hatred.  There's nothing left of my ancestors, not even photos, not even names. What I have is this story and my father-in-law.

To all veterans, living or dead, those who fought in "Great Wars", "small wars", declared wars, undeclared "hostilities", World Wars, local wars, heroic wars, stupid wars (is there a difference?), "wars to end all wars", "mothers of all wars", revolutions, civil wars, and "peacekeeping missions", THANK YOU!

It's true that your bravery and sacrifice have made it possible for us to sink to new lows of societal softness, selfishness, cowardice and appeasement, and to elect one of the most shameful cowards in American history to the position of Commander in Chief.   But I believe that your example will also help us to find our way back to freedom, and that should it be necessary, my children or grandchildren or their children will be willing and able to continue the eternal fight for freedom. To the men of  Minesweeper Division 34, and the men of the USS Scuffle, THANK YOU!

And most especially, my eternal love, respect, and gratitude to William Blaine Thompson, my father, my hero.

Some final notes:  If you haven't thanked the veterans in your life, please do.  As long as they're alive, it's never too late.  If you haven't paid your respects to a veteran who made the ultimate sacrifice, plan to do that as soon as you can.  If you've made mistakes, as I have, if you've lacked respect, lacked courage, misjudged, condemned, then apologize to those you've wronged.  Do one small, single thing that requires courage, and you
will be a better and braver person for having done it.  Take one small step for freedom now and just maybe we won't have to fight another war to regain it.

Happy (belated) Veterans Day!


About the USS Scuffle

(AM-298: dp. 795; 1. 184'6"; b. 33'; dr. 9'; s. 15 k.; cpl. 104, a. 1 3'', 2 40mm., 6 20mm., 2 dct., 2 dcp., 1 dcp. (hh.); cl. Admirable)

Scuffle (AM-298) was laid down on 4 May 1943 by Winslow Marine Railway and Shipbuilding Co., Seattle Wash.; launched on 8 August 1943; sponsored by Miss Marianne Baron, and commissioned on 2 May 1944, Lt. Comdr. Erik A. Johnson in command.

After shakedown, Scuffle sailed from San Francisco on 11 July 1944 for Hawaii. Operating out of Pearl Harbor, she swept an old American-laid minefield in the French Frigate Shoals between 6 and 15 August, escorted a convoy to Eniwetok, and carried out various tests and training operations. She arrived at San Pedro Bay, Leyte, on 31 December 1944 and joined Mine Division 34.

With her division, Scuffle participated in the pre-invasion sweeps at Lingayen Gulf on 6 January 1945, and at Zambales and Subic Bay on the 29th and 31st. In each instance, after completing the pre-invasion sweeps, she helped extend the cleared areas during and after the initial troop landings, and provided antisubmarine and antiaircraft protection for the transports. On 13 February, her division began pre-invasion sweeps in Manila Bay in preparation for landings at Mariveles and Corregidor. While operating off Corregidor on the 14th, the minesweepers came within 5,000 yards of the island and were repeatedly straddled by Japanese fire before supporting ships silenced the enemy's guns. Scuffle continued sweeping in Manila Bay through 18 February, and her unit earned a Navy Unit Commendation for the operation.

On 24 February, Scuffle re-entered Manila Bay with 15 YMS's to clear the harbor of mines and submerged wrecks. Her force, plus the salvage ship Cable, accomplished the task by 10 April, sweeping 615 square miles of water and opening the Harbor to supply ships. On 22 April, she rejoined Mine Division 34 in an 8-day sweep of the Sulu Sea off Palawan. On 9 May, the minesweeper arrived at Morotai to prepare for operations in the Netherlands East Indies.

On 2 June, Scuffle sailed from Morotai with her division to carry out a pre-invasion sweep in Brunei Bay. She ran aground on a reef on 6 June, damaging a screw, but was able to carry out her assigned sweeps before sailing, on 12 June, for repairs at Subic Bay.

She rejoined her division on 26 June off Balikpapan and provided support to YMS's performing the pre-invasion sweep. She left Balikpapan on 8 July and returned to Subic Bay for a month of overhaul. Scuffle's task group received a Presidential Unit Citation for its service off Balikpapan.

The minesweeper left the Philippines on 6 September and arrived at Sasebo, Japan, on 20 October after weathering three typhoons en route. She helped sweep Japanese minefields in Tsushima Strait and the Ryukyu Islands until sailing from Sasebo for home on 9 December. Arriving at Orange, Tex, on 2 April 1946, she was decommissioned there on 19 June 1946 and placed in reserve. The ship was reclassified MSF-298 effective 7 February 1955. She was struck from the Navy list on 1 May 1962 and transferred to Mexico on 1 October 1962.

Scuffle received 5 battle stars for her World War II service.

Courtesy of  Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships and Dale Bruce, well done Dale...