Thursday, February 7, 2008

Campaigning for Obama reveals a WWII Hero's amazing story

We're in full throttle right now in Washington State with the primary election process... and I'm in the thick of it.

I'm literally going door to door in my precinct, following an excel spreadsheet of registered Democrats and Independents, to encourage folks to caucus this Saturday --- two days from now --- for Barack Obama.

The man himself is coming to Seattle tomorrow, and is expected to fill up KeyArena --- the same venue where the local pro hoop team, the Sonics, can't get a sellout to save their lives.

With an "OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT" button on my microfleece shell, I've decided to go door to door; I don't want to be just another person with a political agenda calling on the phone, so I figure I can charm folks by knocking on their door in person, and I have an informational flier to hand out.

However, I'm still torn over the idea of doing it... the prospect of performing such business --- in bad weather too, I might add --- carries the perception of jumping into a dirty swimming pool.

However, that being said: there's no candidate for President, IMO, like Barack Obama... so I'm carrying on and doing this.

Never having done anything like this before (door to door campaigning), I don't know what to expect... and when one doesn't know what to expect in an endeavor like this, one tends to imagine being cold and wet, and doors slamming in faces --- if some folks even answer their door at all.

...and that's the easy part!

Then I'm faced with the prospect of trying to politely determine which candidate they want for President before I hand over information related to the caucus, because in all
honesty we want Obama folks attending, not Hillary folks.

So the mission continues... however just when you're faced with what appears to be a nasty endeavor, something unexpected happens.

It was literally my first knock on a door in the neighborhood where I live. A friendly, gray haired gentleman with a New York accent answered the door, and I introduced myself. We got to chatting about the upcoming caucus, and he invited me inside. I accepted and the conversation continued.

He introduced me to his friendly wife, who joined us. He invited me into his office, where there stood pictures of WWII veterans groups on the wall, along with several shots of a Destroyer Navy
vessel. The same vessel was shown in a glass case as a model, where in the back deck you could see a miniature figure of a sailor waving.

"That's me" he pointed, as the discussion shifted to his participation as a sailor in WWII.

Brief political discussion about shared Democrat's ideals soon gave way to his participation in the war. It seems that he was a sailor on the USS Samuel B. Roberts --- a destroyer that was part of the "tin can fleet" that took on a fleet of Japanese battleships --- guns outnumbered 20 to 1.

The veteran described the odds in the battle being like a youth football team taking on the Chicago Bears.

After a brilliant chess match involving runaway smokescreens coupled with flanking torpedo attacks on the Japanese fleet, in addition to taking head on Japanese battleships --- including the legendary battleship Yamato --- luck ran out as his ship was hit and sunk.

However the results of their heroic actions occupied the Japanese fleet for a long enough time, and the torpedoes (which the enemy did not anticipate) did enough damage (while requiring them to at least dance around them in the water) to where they had to withdraw from the area due to being low on oil and supplies...

History reveals that was a stake in the heart for the Japanese fleet, and perhaps the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

However, that all said; apparently the whole battle of the tin can fleet would have never occurred, and should have never occurred... as it was due to the absent-minded departure from the area the night before of the infamous Admiral Halsey, who took the battleships and aircraft carriers in the area (which the destroyers protected) north to follow a decoy. This left the Philippines, which we were now occupying, literally undefended... with the exception of a group of these brave Destroyers, unknowingly left behind.

So the story goes; he drifted for 50 hours in the water, staving off sharks, watching his fellow sailors getting their legs bit off, before finally being rescued... a rescue that would never have happened were it not for the diligence of a ranking officer who realized nobody had been picked up from the USS Roberts (a day after it was sunk), and as a result commencing heading a rescue mission that involved a 10 hour trip back into treacherous waters.

When he and two others were finally spotted, they were unidentifiable since they were covered in oil. The rescue ship circled around them, trying to identify them, guns pointed down at them. Someone from the rescue ship finally yelled: "who won the World Series?!?!"

He yelled back: "The St. Louis Cardinals!!!" ...and so the story goes...

Look for the accounts of the events involving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in programs on the History Channel, which play monthly... there's one on the battle involving the ship: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, and another focusing specifically on the USS Roberts: Hero Ships: USS Samuel Roberts.

The USS Roberts lost half its crew through all this... and I heard the whole story from one of the surviving sailors. He lent me copies of the two history channel DVDs, in which he appears in both.

This veteran should easily be dead... talk about having nine lives, I think he's somehow conjured up 15 of them and used them all. There's no question that he has angels looking over him. The crest for the USS Samuel B. Roberts states: "No higher honor," reciting a statement the captain put in his report when he described the valiant effort of the crew, and how he felt about serving with them.

At the end of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, this veteran humbly states that he's not a hero... that the heroes are those who's lives were lost in battle that day, and in the perils confronted on the high seas.

I can appreciate that... however, I shall respectfully disagree...

The veteran I visited with was one of those crew members described in the captain's report; and part of the reason for that motto being on the ship's crest. My mind fails to absorb the experiences he went through that day, and that time spent in the water adrift... we can only appreciate the honor, and the horror, in the stories we are fortunate enough to hear --- which could easily fast become vapor trails fizzling away as the years rip by --- as our heroic veterans pass away.

...but that's not happening on my watch. I plan on collecting and recording stories like this whenever I can, even though I'm not much of a war buff... I believe that's the most respectable thing we can do for our aging veterans; that is, passing along their stories --- such as the one about this sailor --- to my children, and grandchildren... and doing what I can to maintain the lore and heroism of "The Greatest Generation."

I left that flat yesterday thinking: "That was only ONE knock... what's next?" Then I thought about it again...

I knew I was campaigning door to door for a reason. S