Vets share lunch, and tales of the big war
Three old vets and a table full of memories.
A trio of World War II veterans, Navy men who’d fought in the Pacific, now in their 90s, gathered for lunch at the Ancient Mariner on Thursday, Dec.7 — Pearl Harbor Day.
“Looking back 76 years, today — that’s the day they bombed Pearl Harbor — I keep thinking of what General and President Eisenhower said about war,” said Wally Goodman, a veteran of Amphibious Corps landings. “He described war as ‘a stupid process.’ Unfortunately, we’ve made little progress in solving this, the problem of wars.”
Goodman was joined by George Ventres, a pharmacist’s mate on a destroyer, and Chuck Baldwin, who flew in B-24 bombers.
Goodman had arranged the event with Ancient Mariner owner Jessica Wilmot.
“After dining at this place — I’m crazy about the cheeseburgers — I told Jessica that she really had three ‘ancient mariners’ in this community,” he said.
They were joined by a few friends and relatives: Monnie Newman, Walter Goodman’s daughter; Tad Ventres, George Ventres’ son; Debra Baldwin-Hammock, Chuck Baldwin’s daughter; and Nancy Baldaserini, whose dad, “Jinx” Baldaserini, 100 now, wasn’t up for a lunch.
Japan’s surprise bombing of the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii Dec. 7, 1941, immediately drew the United States into the war.
“I was in high school,” said Goodman, 92. “The day after I took my last test, I was on my way to Sampson Naval Base for basic training.”
He recalled three “operations” in the Pacific he was involved in.
“For the first operation I was attached to the 2nd and 3rd Marine Divisions and I landed with them at Saipan,” said Goodman. “The second operation I was in was Iwo Jima. I did not land there. I was in reserve. That was probably the worst island invasion in the Pacific as far as killed and wounded numbers.”
The third operation was at Okinawa.
“It’s a big, beautiful island, and shortly after that they dropped the bombs,” he said.
He heard the news at Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines.
“It was like a gigantic yoke lifted off all our shoulders, because they surrendered a few days later,” Goodman said.
George Ventres, 96, was in the service three months when the Japanese attacked.
“I joined the Navy in September of ’41, the day after I was 18,” he said.
“I was with a girl and we were bowling and everybody in uniform — you couldn’t even bowl, these people would tell you, ‘You gotta report, sailor.’ I was as low as you could get in the Navy. They could do without me for a few hours,” Ventres said.
A pharmacist’s mate, he served at two hospitals, in New Zealand, then on Espiritu Santo — the setting for the musical South Pacific.
“I went from there to a destroyer,” Ventres said. “To take care of patients aboard a ship, they had a doctor, a chief pharmacist’s mate, and me — I was a 1st class pharmacist’s mate — and there was a 3rd class pharmacist’s mate.”
He did not envy pharmacist’s mates assigned to submarines.
“They don’t have doctors on a sub,” Ventres said. “What they said is, you’re qualified for independent duty in the absence of a medical officer.”
He recalled treating an enemy combatant.
“We picked up a Japanese pilot that got shot down,” Ventres said. “His leg was broken and I gave him a shot of morphine and we cut his leg off — there was no saving it.
“He ate as well as we did, we treated him good,” Ventres said. ”Hell, he was just a young kid.”
Shore leaves were welcome.
“Every nine months we went to Sydney, Australia. We’d have a nine-day drunk,” Ventres said.
“We went down there like this” — he held out his hands, shaking — “after a nine-day drunk, no problem at all.
“They’ve got a beautiful country, down there,” he added.
Chuck Baldwin, 99, flew bombers.
“It was the Navy’s version of B-24,” he said.
“I was in long enough to have my own plane,” he said.
Bomber crews included gunners, and mechanics for repairs.
“B-24s could absorb quite a hit,” Baldwin said. “We did lose the occasional.”
He took part in the Pacific island-hopping campaign.
“Just getting rid of the enemy,” he said. “We just kept advancing until Japan surrendered.”
Groups of bombers would take off, all go in different directions and fly different routes to the target area, drop their bombs, and take different routes back. “This was all enemy territory,” he said. “They never did expect us.”
A pilot could run into Japanese planes.
“What happened, a lot of bullets went back and forth,” he said.
Baldwin earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement” flying.
He flew his huge bomber extraordinarily low over the water — a defensive maneuver. Most Japanese planes’ guns could only shoot forward. They’d attack from above, then fly under to get in position for another pass.
“If you stayed high, they could make a run on you, and go make another run,” Baldwin said.
“We tried to get down as low as we could. Some of them would get so involved in getting us, they would go underneath. …”
“They’d hit the water, and that would be the end of them,” said Debra Baldwin-Hammock, finishing her dad’s story.
“We would get as low as that ceiling,” Baldwin said, pointing up.
“Wow!” said Tad Ventres. “Like 10 feet!”
“Just ease it down,” said Baldwin.