Two Stryker men– members of the American Legion Yackee/Strong Post #60– remember their service in the U.S. Navy during the last days of WWII.
Jim Ruffer, 92, grew up on a farm in the time known as The Great Depression.
He remembered even during tough economic times, there was always enough to eat, and, “we had a lot of fun.”
Walt “Tug” Guthrie, who’s about six months older than Ruffer, was born in Minnesota, where his father was a railroader in the state’s Iron Range– areas of iron ore.
The family moved to Stryker when he was a child.
Guthrie remembers putting cardboard in his shoes, and taking them to a Mr. Penny to be half-soled.
“But I must say I never lacked for something to eat or something to wear. We were poor, but not that poor,” he said.
War in Europe broke out in 1939.
America was dragged into the conflict on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked the American military base at Pearl Harbor.
Ruffer said he didn’t remember how, as a 14-year-old, he heard about the attack.
“It seemed like everyone knew. It was something the older people told us. It was hard not to know what was going on,” Ruffer said.
Everyone “was concerned” about the attack and the immediate aftermath.
“I don’t know how much I worried, but everybody was concerned. It was hard to be here, not know what was going on, not know that we’re getting in the war,” he said.
Guthrie didn’t remember how he heard about Pearl Harbor.
“I assume, I’m pretty sure, that we had the radio on, the old Silvertone,” Guthrie said.
Like Ruffer, Guthrie said he remembers people were concerned.
“Even in little Stryker, at night they wanted you to turn your lights down low, so there was at least that much concern,” Guthrie said.
After graduation in 1945, Ruffer joined the U.S. Navy.
“I guess somebody told me to go and enlist, and you can go to school for a year or two. It didn’t work out that way,” he said.
Ruffer went to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago “like everybody did, and then I went to radio technician school for only a couple of months, and then the war ended, and boy, everything changed a lot.
“Some of those schools, they didn’t do them anymore. They had enough (radio technicians), I guess.”
Guthrie said in 1944, when he was a senior, “it seemed every week, there was a recruiter from the Navy, Air Force (then Army Air Corps) or the Army at school, trying to get recruits.
“I enlisted in the naval air corps. It was called the V-5 program.
“Well, you know, I wanted to fly. I wanted to land on a carrier.
“I was already enlisted before I graduated. Back then, we graduated early, probably like the middle of May or early May. I already had my papers to report.
“They sent me to Oberlin College for Officers Candidate School. I had to report July 1, 1944, and I had just turned 17 in January.”
Guthrie was at Oberlin for about nine months, when a bulletin was posted.
“They wanted some transfers to go to University of Southwest Louisiana (Lafayette, La.). Same program,” he said.
“There were seven us. We said, ‘yeah, we’ll go.’”
The Navy brass must have figured they had enough pilots.
“They put a bulletin out. They said they were closing that program, but if you wanted to stay in college and get your commission, it’s called the V-12 program, which is just a line officer as opposed to a pilot,” Guthrie said.
“I think all of us just stayed in.”
Then there was another bulletin, offering a chance to go to Tulane University, New Orleans, La.
The same seven guys transferred again.
It was along about then the war ended, and there was another bulletin.
“If you wanted to stay in college and get your commission, you signed up for six years.
“Well, I’m too young and dumb, and… I don’t think I want to make a career in this.”
Both men wound up on ships.
Ruffer ended up on the West Coast.
“There were a lot of sailors out there, a lot of ships,” he said.
He was assigned to the brand new escort carrier (known as a “Baby Flat- Top”) USS Sicily.
“We got out in the Pacific with that brand-new ship and a lot of brand-new crew on it, and we were out there doing maneuvers, I guess,” Ruffer said.
“Every now and then, we’d come back to the West Coast.
“Later, I guess they had everybody taught about all they could absorb.
“We went down through the Panama Canal and came up the east side, doing the same stuff.
“We pulled into Bayonne, N.J. We had to stop for a couple of days, and they cut something off the top of the ship so we could get under the Brooklyn Bridge, and we went in that Brooklyn Naval Yard.”
After leaving the V-12 program, Guthrie was assigned to the U.S.S. Missouri, the last battleship built for the Navy.
It was aboard the Missouri that the Japanese surrender was signed, ending WW II.
“When I was on her (Missouri), all we did was run up and down (the East Coast) from Guantanamo Bay (a US naval base in Cuba) to Casco Bay, Maine,” Guthrie said.
“They let us go swimming down in Guantanamo Bay. They’d stop out there and fire those 16-inch guns once in while.”
Guthrie worked in the ship Combat Information Center, where information was gathered and analyzed during battle.
Ruffer worked in the engineering spaces on the Sicily as a fireman, keeping the ship boilers going.
“Technically, if I got a rating, I would have been a water tender, but I wasn’t in that long,” Ruffer said.
The Sicily used bunker oil, “the thick stuff. They had heaters in the big tanks; you had to heat the oil to get it to flow.
“They always said they carried enough oil to sail that ship around the world. I know they had some big, big tanks,” Ruffer said.
When he got out of the Navy, Ruffer said he returned to Stryker, “and I hugged everybody I saw, and I was glad to be home.”
He bought a milk route, picking up milk from individual farmers and hauling it to the Swift Dairy in Defiance.
He did that for about 10 years, “then I bought a farm. That was good, so I bought a couple more.”
Before joining the Navy, Guthrie had been a lineman for the Stryker municipal electric company.
When he returned, he was 19, and he went back to that job.
“Basically, I was the town lineman, and it seemed whenever there was an ice storm, I was out hanging on a pole because a transformer blew, and everybody’s in their nice warm home,” Guthrie said.
“I don’t want to be doing this for the rest of my life,” he said.
He took the civil service exam for Railway Mail Service.
With points for his military service, he got that job, sorting mail on trains from Chicago to Cleveland.
A few years went by, and he eventually became the postmaster in Stryker until retirement.
Recalling their military service, neither man had regrets.
“Actually, it was a good experience for me. I was never in any danger that I knew of,” Ruffer said.
“I was on that ship, you know the whole thing could go down, but you don’t worry about it. The war was over. They weren’t shooting at it. So it was just a good experience for me,” Ruffer said.