Originally Published: November 10, 2015 7:34 p.m.
Name: Jerry Koenig
City of Residence: Dewey
Branch of Service: U.S. Navy and Coast Guard
Dates of Service: 1944-47 Active; then 23 years in Coast Guard
Rank: Chief Warrant Officer (W4)
After living with my uncle and his family for eight years in Wisconsin, I moved to Kansas to live with my sister and her family.
On Jan. 29, 1944, since it was my 17th birthday, I decided to skip school and hitchhike 75 miles to Wichita to join the Navy. I had no problem, as very few cars passed a hitchhiker during WW II. After completing all the paperwork, the recruiter told me to take them home and have my parents sign them.
My parents both passed away in 1935, so he said my sister could sign for me if she was my legal guardian. I hitchhiked back and told her that I skipped school, and would she agree to be my legal guardian.
After a judge approved, the recruiter signed me up and I was off to Farragut, Idaho, Navy Training Station for boot camp. Six weeks later, graduating, I'm a Seaman Second Class, hoping for a ship. Instead, I have orders to return to Farragut, after leave, for Quartermaster School.
After completion of school, learning navigation and signaling, with orders to a Navy Receiving Station near San Francisco, I'm ready for sea duty. At the Receiving Station, I received orders to the U.S.S. Orizaba (AP-24) in a Navy repair yard in Seattle. Arriving at the ship, a Navy Troop Transport built in 1919, had suffered some damage from German shore batteries in the invasion of Sicily. The Captain's bathroom had a bathtub.
We carried troops to many Pacific ports, including Adak, Attu and Amchitka along the Aleutian Chain. Usually steaming alone, zig-zagging to avoid possible Japanese submarines. The next trip with troops was a refueling in the New Hebrides, then Hollandia, New Guinea, and then we joined a convoy to Leyte Gulf in the Phillippines. While anchored there, Japanese aircraft flew over every night around 2:30 a.m.; anti-aircraft fire looked like the Fourth of July.
Underway for Pearl Harbor, I was on duty on the bridge and told we were having a burial at sea, and to lower the flag during the ceremony. My position enabled me to see a large white canvas container on a table. I heard the Chaplain read a short prayer, followed by a command, "Stop all engines." This was followed by a splash and another command, "All engines ahead full." I raised the colors, returned to the bridge and was told two 5-inch shells were added inside the canvas to increase weight.
Arriving at Pearl Harbor, the ship received orders to proceed to Tampa, Florida, via the Panama Canal. Crossing the canal, we received information that President Roosevelt had passed away.
After arriving in Tampa, the ship was decommissioned and I received orders to New York City. Arriving at a Navy Receiving Center, I was assigned to a Navy Honor Guard for Military Funerals. We provided honors for as many as six funerals a day throughout the city.
After a few months, orders came to a new light cruiser under construction. WW II ended the day the U.S.S. FARGO (CL-106) was scheduled to be commissioned, and commissioning was delayed a week.
After what is called a shakedown training cruise out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, we returned to the U.S. and picked up a Three-Star Admiral for a goodwill cruise to South America. Entering Montevideo Harbor, we passed close to the German partially sunken battleship, "Graf Spee." The ship was scuttled by the German Navy, damaged after a sea battle with the British Navy early in WW II. While in Montevideo, the Fargo's orders were changed.
Arriving at Gibraltar, we relieved a cruiser suffering bottom damage from passing over a sunken wreck. We spent the next 11 months visiting most of the seaports in the Mediterranean Sea, with Naples, Italy, as our home port. Our pier was an Italian cruiser sunk in the harbor during WW II. The Fargo would stop and fire at any mines sighted floating in the sea.
I contacted my high school in Kansas. They sent the ship a final exam, which I completed when the ship was anchored in Izmir, Turkey. Returning to the U.S. and following another cruise to the Mediterranean, I was discharged in December 1947. I still have my so-called "ruptured duck pin." Every WW II veteran received on with discharge papers. I joined the Reserves and was recalled to active duty for the Korean Conflict on a Navy Net Tender out of Pearl Harbor.
Discharged from the Navy and entering the civilian workforce for a few years, I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, was assigned to the Rescue Coordination Centers (RCC) in Kodiak, Alaska, and San Francisco, followed by sea duty on Coast Guard ships on the West and East coasts.
Advancing to Chief Warrant Officer (CWO), I served as Commanding Officer of a Lightship, two rescue stations and two 110-foot ice-breaking tugs. My rescue station in San Francisco recovered the bodies of 66 suicide jumpers off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2 1/2 years.
My ship served as an escort for the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration in New York Harbor and escorted Queen Elizabeth II's yacht when she visited the United States.
Married and after serving 23 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, I retired as Chief Warrant Officer (W4).
I received WW II campaign ribbons and commendation ribbons. I know WW II veterans in five major battles in Europe, coming home with one campaign ribbon with five stars attached.