My Role Honoring Veterans of WWII
How did you spend your nineteenth birthday? For my Dad on June 7, 1944 he spent that day sitting on a gunner of a destroyer overlooking the beach of France. It was D-Day, code name Operation Overlord when Allied forces landed on the beaches of France to liberate France from the Nazi Germans.
My Dad was NOT at Normandy, like I thought. But was in Southern France in the third D-Day which lasted several weeks and was a battle at sea.
I didn’t know this when I was a kid, he never told me about his military service. So now my role in honoring veterans of WWII is telling the my Dad’s story.
Life on a Navy Destroyer
I know very little about my Dad’s military life, he rarely spoke about it and when he did I was too occupied as a teenager to really listen and remember. When I was thirteen we went to Fall River Massachusetts to tour the USS Massachusetts and my Dad was more interested in showing us the USS JOSEPH P KENNEDY JR DD850 destroyer. We climbed aboard the gunners and that was of of the few times I heard him talk about WWII.
The role of destroyers at Normandy is recounted in detail in an online book Destroyers at Normandy published by the Naval Historic Foundation. Most of which I don’t understand and can’t appreciate due to me know knowing the terminology.
Through official military records, I have since learned my Dad served on the USS Kendrick DD612 and USS Edison.
He was very young and first was a “runner” then became a “gunner”. He wasn’t very big, about 5’8″ and about 125 lbs. His nickname was “Tiny Terry the Terrible” he was a scraper from what I could tell.
My Dad said the deck it was loud and confusing. His hands burned from the heat of the gun and at the time they didn’t really know what was happening. Remember, this was before the days of instant communication, all they could do was their job, do what they were told and pray for the best.
Because my Dad’s WWII duffel bag was lost, stolen, or lifted immediately upon returning to the United States. He lost all of his medals, paperwork and memorabilia from World War II.
He enlisted into the US Army 82nd airborne Division just five years later. I wonder if his WWII experience with the Army Airborne was part of his desire to become a paratrooper.
Although his medals were lost, his still wore ribbons from his previous service in World War II. It is these military ribbons that hang in my shadowbox on the wall.
Why Dad Decided to Join the Military
My Father was one of five kids and his Mother had just did during childbirth. Their Father was in and out of their lives and at this point had abandoned them. Dad and his brother Vern Tyrrell (“Jub”) tried raising their sisters on their own, but they were teenagers themselves.
Eventually the kids were divided between family and the poor farm. At the time the only requirements to enlist in the navy was to be 18. According to official military records, my Dad joined the military on his 18th birthday. However, according to oral family history he went in underage somewhere around the age of 16.
I can’t imagine having one of my sons at age 19 in such a battle. Yes, they are both Marines, but we don’t fight wars like we did back then. Thank goodness. I heard on the radio this morning that over 2,500 men lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy on one day, June 6, 1944.
My Dad died in 1995 and today he would be 89 years old. Happy Birthday Dad, I miss you and wish you were here to watch your grandsons grow up to be fine young men. He would be so proud of them and they would love to hear your stories.
World War 2 Books and References
Shepherds of the Sea: Destroyer Escorts in World War IIUnited States Destroyer Operations in World War IIUS Navy Ships Camouflage WWII: Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts – Specials series (6099)Scurvy Dogs, Green Water and Gunsmoke:Fifty Years in US Navy Destroyers, Vol 1US Navy Ships
Three Years Aboard A Navy DestroyerDestroyer Captain: Lessons of a First CommandUnited States Navy Destroyers of World War 2