Spending that much time on a vessel which is just a little longer than a football field, with a crew made up mostly of kids just out of high school, you couldn’t help but become a “family,” although we didn’t much think of it that way then. I had been a farm boy in 1943 and had just graduated from high school. I hadn’t even been out of the state of Ohio, except when our family visited my father’s sister, who lived just over the border in Indiana. Most of our crew came from the eastern part of the United States.
I was just out of high school when I joined the Navy and went to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago, where I went through boot camp and then through Torpedo School training. Brfore I finished destroyer training in Norfolk, and we got out to the far Pacific, most of the Japanese fleet had been destroyed and our scourge was to be the kamikaze blitz.
We had a good complement of officers on the Van Valkenburgh, a number of them being “mustangs”—those who came up through the ranks. Our torpedo officer, Lt. (jg) James Peeler, was one of them.
And we feel our skipper, Capt. Alex B. Coxe, was outstanding. We all believe it was due to his expertise, as well as the Man upstairs watching over us, that got us through those 63 days on the radar picket line and unscathed. That particular time was just a blur to me.
A 3-foot by 3-foot by about 18-inches-deep “locker,” just below my bunk in the forward starboard sleeping quarters, held all my worldly possessions then. My bunk was against the hull of the ship and, before I went to sleep, I often thought of the fact that I had less than an inch of steel between me and the mighty ocean.
On our very first night on a radar picket station, we came under a kamikaze attack and, though we avoided being hit, one of the smaller craft with us was impacted by a Jap plane. We picked up survivors, one of whom didn’t make it through the night. It was quite a shock for a teenager to watch a burial at sea the next day and think “what could be in store for me out here?” And that was just our first day on a picket station.
But all of the above is what makes our reunions so much more important as we reach these later years. Some crews of other ships meet every other year, and many just don’t have reunions. When we finish one reunion, we’re already looking forward to the next one. And some just don’t have enough crew members left to put together a reunion any more. (Many of us old codgers have ventured into the computer and E-mail world of late, and keep in touch throughout the year. We’ve contacted all of our enlightened members and made them aware of the web site you have created for the Van Valkenburgh. We thank you.) And being the Treasurer of for our reunion, it gives me the opportunity to keep in contact with members throughout the year.
This year, we’ll be holding our reunion in St. Louis at the end of next September. We went there two years ago and liked the town and motel facilities, and decided to go back again. Also, it’s closer for the few of the crew who hail from the western part of the states.
I hope this hasn’t bored you. It just “bubbled out” after doing all of that reminiscing about our Van Valkenburgh.
E-mail from shipmate Keith Bastian, 15 March 2006.