U.S. Coast Guard veterans swap WWII tales at reunion

By DON MUNSCH
Globe-News Staff Writer

U.S. Coast Guard veterans remember being on the USS Cavalier as if they were recalling events from yesterday.

Only the events they recall happened a half-century ago during World War II.

Veterans of the USS Cavalier APA-37 are meeting in Amarillo this week for a nationwide reunion.

Veterans Dub McKendree, Elton Ennis and John Giles talked Thursday morning about their experiences.

Veterans recalled the serious matters they faced while onboard the Cavalier, which was manned by U.S. Coast Guard personnel during the war and made landings in the South Pacific at Saipan, Tinian, Leyte, Lingayan Gulf and Subic Bay. The Cavalier carried crew and equipment to put a regimental combat team and its equipment ashore. The ship carried the 184th Combat Team of the 7th Army for landing rehearsal exercises off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands.

Each of the three veterans had a different story to tell.

"I had an experience where a man was wounded right in front of me," said McKendree, who lives in Pampa. "I stepped in front of him and took the landing craft to the beach. . . . When I got home, they sent me the Bronze Star for getting it safely to the beach."

Veterans said saving their ship - which they joined in 1943 - from sinking left an indelible memory. The ship was torpedoed at about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 30, 1945. Steerage was lost. Several compartments were flooded, and decks buckled and split. No one died, but 50 were treated for minor injuries, McKendree said.

"There was what? Six hundred twenty-five men in the crew?" McKendree, 76, said.

"We don't have quite that many left, though," said Giles, 77, of Pacific City, Ore.

Giles said the ship was not in danger of sinking because a damage control team tended to it immediately. The ship was towed to Pearl Harbor, where it was repaired and put back into service in September 1945. Most of the WWII crew was transferred after the war, but the ship remained in commission until 1968.

"Do you remember that night we were torpedoed?" Ennis, 76, said to Giles.

"Oh, yeah," Giles said.

"It happened right underneath me," Ennis said.

"I was in the chief's quarters," Giles said.

"It knocked me right out of my bunk. I didn't even have my clothes on," Ennis said.

Giles said he received $21 a month while a seaman.

"They didn't have boot camps then," Giles said. "I went in with my best suit on."

In addition to their experience with a torpedo strike, veterans remembered a kamikaze plane that flew across their bow, and McKendree said he dreaded nightfall and dawn because of the kamikazes.

McKendree and other veterans from USS Cavalier are holding reunion events at the Radisson Inn Amarillo Airport, and plan to tour Palo Duro Canyon, visit the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and eat at the Big Texas Steak Ranch while they're in town. Today, a banquet and meeting are planned. Ken Teel, vice president for development and chief development officer at Cal Farley's Boys Ranch and Affiliates, will be guest speaker.

About 100 crew members remain living from the USS Cavalier, although around 10 members die a year, they said.