Subject: Heroes

Published: February 1998

By: Bob Schmitz


Lately on some talk shows, some attention has been given to the importance of the older generation writing down for their Grandchildren, and for future generations, what it was like growing up during the depression and war years.  With the help of the word processer, I recently did just that.  As I wen along so many long forgotten memories surfaced.  Memories that did not include television, organized children’s sports, or even any apprecialble amount of spending money.  It did include a lot of sand lot baseball and football, and the ability to roam the streets, and to play in them without fear.  We were a poor family, but did not know it because our neighbors were also unemployed and poor.


11 September 1943

USS Savannah (CL-42)

Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

Treatment of the war years was somewhat problematic.  Of my 5 plus years in the Navy, 3 and a half were spent on the Savannah, so much of the story detailed the experience there.  In telling the story as modestly as possible, I got to thinking about the real definition of a hero, and more importantly, what kind of heroes do our Grandchildren have.  When I was growing up we had Charles Lindberg, Amelia Earhart, and sports heroes like Dizzy Dean and Joe Louis.  Who do the kids have now?  Our exploits in space have become so commonplace that I doubt that kids or adults can name names.  Our sports heroes are a mixed bag, especially for me living in Dallas and trying to decide which are the heroes among the Dallas Cowboys.


I submit that all of the Savannah crew are heroes, and our grandchildren looking for heroes need look no further.  We were heroes because of the way we did our jobs, the way we trained, and the way our training showed during the Savannah operations, from Port Lyyauty, to the blockade off South America, to support operations at Gela and Salerno.  Ask the Army.


And then the hit at Salerno.  Who were the heroes there?  The shipmates who gave their lives?  Certainly.  Those special shipmates who were decorated?  Absolutely.  But how about the rest of us?  Following the hit we were called upon to do some things we were not trained for.  The cleanup.  Remember the brave men who went down in that oil smeared tangle of live ammunition, pipes, wires, twisted metal, equipment, and decomposed bodies, and sorted it out piece by piece.  I was topside, and only one of the many who, wearing a camphor soaked mask, helped with the handling of the bodies, most bloated and unrecognizable, as they were identified, placed in body bags, and carried to the barge for burial.  Of necessity, they had to be handled quickly.  But I have often thought of how irreverently those shipmates and friends were handled.  But there was no other way.


After that we had to clean up the ship, using salt water hoses, steam, lots of soap, and elbow grease.  I don’t believe we ever rid the ship completely of the odor of oil and death.  Eventually we brought the ship back to Philadelphia, and many of us went off to fight the war someplace else, and maybe were heroes there too.


Of course all of us who left behind families, and postponed education, careers, and starting families, all to put right a world catastrophe, were heroes.  I believe our own children were aware of it.  But I am not so sure our grandchildren, the next generation, understand it.  They are getting great educations for the most part.  When I have a problem with my outdated computer I know I can count on my 12 year old grandson to straighten me out.  Telling them your own personal story is, in my opinion, a way for them to relate to a history we can be proud of.  My grandpa a hero!  Why not?


Bob Schmitz