VET­ERAN

Big Spring Herald - - LO­CAL -

mem­ory on the ship was when they were serv­ing break­fast. Un­for­tu­nately, it was red beans, which was the Navy’s pri­mary food. I ended up los­ing my break­fast, but never got sick af­ter that.”

Into ac­tion

Af­ter a short time, pa­trolling var­i­ous coast lines of coun­tries in the Mediter­ranean, the Ham­ble­ton was as­signed to an ar­mada of ships es­cort­ing the Euro­pean Di­vi­sion, head­ing for the English Chan­nel. While trav­el­ing through the Mediter­ranean, and into the English Chan­nel, Stevens’ ship was as­signed to anti-sub­ma­rine pa­trol.

“We en­gaged six dif­fer­ent sub­marines,” said Stevens. “We were cred­ited with sink­ing two.”

On the morn­ing of June 6, 1944, Stevens took part in Op­er­a­tion Over­lord… D-Day… the in­va­sion of Nor­mandy. The USS Ham­ble­ton would es­cort a large con­voy of Land­ing Ship Tanks (LSTs) to the area around Omaha Beach.

“We were as­signed to es­cort troops into Nor­mandy,” said Stevens. “I can still re­mem­ber those two days; I still see it in my mind. The Ger­mans had dis­patched six boats, which were the equiv­a­lent to our PT boats. We were as­signed to take them on.”

Af­ter sink­ing one of the Ger­man E-boats, Stevens’ ship was at­tacked. While ma­neu­ver­ing around a Ger­man E-boat, Stevens’ ship was at­tacked, dam­ag­ing a por­tion of his boat. The at­tack left Stevens in­jured, call­ing the events a “freak­ish ac­ci­dent.” For­tu­nately for Stevens, the at­tack wasn’t too se­vere, and he was able to con­tinue to serve.

New mis­sion, new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties

Af­ter spend­ing a short leave back at home, Stevens and the Ham­ble­ton would be sent to the Pa­cific the­ater of oper­a­tions.

“They re­placed the ma­chine guns and in­stalled high-speed minesweep­ing gear,” Stevens said. “We were as­signed to sweep for mines around all the is­lands to clear the way for our troops.”

The Ham­ble­ton sailed for the Pa­cific to take part in the in­va­sion of Ok­i­nawa, which was the largest am­phibi­ous as­sault in the Pa­cific. “We were re­spon­si­ble for clear­ing the way of mines for larger ships like the USS Mis­souri.”

“At one point I was re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing care of any mines on my side of the ship,” Stevens said. “One popped up in my vi­sion and I started fir­ing at it. My gun jammed, but I was able to clear the jam and de­stroy the mine. I felt like that mine was my re­spon­si­bil­ity and there was no other gun avail­able to get it. I did what I needed to do.”

While serv­ing in the Pa­cific, Stevens en­coun­tered sev­eral kamikaze pi­lots, with his crew get­ting credit for de­stroy­ing six of them. “You wouldn’t be­lieve how they could fly,” Stevens said. “With a sky full of am­mu­ni­tion, these kamikaze pi­lots mov­ing all around. We de­stroyed five of them, with one of them los­ing a land­ing gear on our se­cu­rity ca­ble caus­ing it to go down. We got credit for it any­way.”

“Kamikaze air­craft were ba­si­cally a pi­loted bul­let,” Stevens said. “It was hard to take them down be­cause they didn’t have much equip­ment or abil­ity to fire. One of them al­most wiped out our ship, but we got lucky when it went down in the wa­ter.”

Af­ter fight­ing out­side Nor­mandy, and fight­ing kamikazes and mines in the Pa­cific, Stevens says one of the great­est bat­tles came against mother na­ture. “We rode out four ty­phoons dur­ing that tour, with the fourth one al­most wip­ing us out,” Stevens said. “I had a six­hour duty one stretch dur­ing that storm. My dun­ga­ree shirt was in

shreds once that six hours was over.”

At one point dur­ing the storm, the Ham­ble­ton hit a mas­sive wave. “The en­tire ship started vi­brat­ing,” Stevens said. “Our skip­per was sleep­ing in his chair be­side the helm. He sat up and shouted who the hell hit us? I told him we hit a wave and he just said carry on.”

End of a war

Once the Ham­ble­ton reached Tokyo Bay, Stevens and his crew watched from shore as the ar­mistice was signed.

“It was a won­der­ful day,” Stevens said. The cer­e­mony aboard the USS Mis­souri was a mem­o­rable moment for Stevens.

“We an­chored off the star­board bow of the Mis­souri and watched the sign­ing of the ar­mistice,” re­counted Stevens.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to San Diego, Stevens made his way back to Ok­la­homa. Four days later he mar­ried his wife, who had awaited his re­turn.

“I wasn’t home but a few days and we got mar­ried,” Stevens said. “She had been with me for three years be­fore I went into the Navy, and I was lucky she was still wait­ing on me when I got out.”

Stevens is one of more than 33,000 Veter­ans in the West Texas VA Health Care Sys­tem (WTVAHCS) catch­ment area, and WTVAHCS staff are proud and hum­bled to be able to ful­fill the VA mis­sion of car­ing for our Na­tion’s Veter­ans.

“The ser­vice has taken care of me ever since I got out,” said Stevens. “I have se­vere ver­tigo af­ter the ac­ci­dent on the ship dur­ing Nor­mandy. The VA has taken care of me through it all.”

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