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Hometown Heroes

John Elmore

John & Shirley Elmore (click for larger version)
10/01/2007 - "The whole nation honored our boys," John Elmore's wife Shirley tells me.

Our boys. My heart leaps up when I hear that phrase again. It reminds me of the stories my parents and aunts and uncles would tell. Usually in passing. On Gramma's front porch or around the kitchen table. "Our boys." "Our boys." "Our boys."

This is what the whole country called our fighting men during World War II. Back when free speech wasn't so hamstringed by political correctness. We beamed with pride for Our boys. Our boys who were American grown. Who were again standing up for what was right. Who stared brutality and totalitarianism in the face and did not blink. Our boys, most barely out of high school and others, grown men. We felt a profound need to nurture them because of our deep-felt appreciation for their sacrifice and bravery. They were performing these deeds for all the world and for us because we could not. They were our boys.

John Elmore is one of our boys. He's 83 now, but he's still one of our boys.

John graduated from high school in May 1943 and was sworn into the Navy that July. After four months of training and seven days' leave, he boarded a train on Christmas Eve and headed to Boston for more training.

In Omaha, the trained stopped for over night. Townspeople waiting at the station invited each of the boys to come home with them and enjoy Christmas dinner with their families the next day. Eighteen-year-old John took one of the families up on their offer.

"The country was united and behind us," John tells me. "It helped."

After training in Boston for a few months, John and the boys rode another train back west across the county to San Francisco where they would be shipped out to the war in the Pacific. On their trip across our "beautiful country," folks along the way would wave and blow kisses as the troop train passed by. One of the people who may have waved at John's train in Wheatland was a little girl named Shirley. John and Shirley hadn't married yet. They hadn't even met yet. But since Shirley's family home was right near the tracks and her family always waved at the passing troop trains, chances are Shirley waved at John and they didn't even know it.

As the train passed through Laramie, so close to John's hometown of Guernsey, John wanted to jump off the train and go see his parents. "Before the service, the farthest I'd been from home was Denver. We all had to grow up fast. On our own."

John served as a motor machinist's mate on PT 338 in the Pacific. His job and the job of two other sailors was to keep the boat running well. And they'd better because their boat's mission was to patrol, usually at night, along side other PT boats among the Pacific Islands looking for Japanese troop movements. If they spotted them, they were intercepted and destroyed.

Once a Japanese kamikaze pilot crashed his plane into an American tanker and, "when the smoke cleared, it was gone."

Another time a Japanese torpedo plane, hoping to wipe out two PT boats with one torpedo by dropping it between John's boat and another, dove low between them. This position would serve as cover since neither of the boats could fire at him for fear of hitting the other one. Neither PT boat fired. The plane dropped its torpedo. And, strike one for the good guys, the torpedo missed completely doing absolutely no damage. No damage except maybe to the Japanese pilot's self-esteem.

In January 1945, John's PT boat veered off course and ran aground in enemy territory. Scared, they waited all day to be rescued. When they were all safely on board the rescue boat, they watched as their beloved PT 338 was blown up by the Americans. They had to. They "couldn't leave anything behind for the enemy."

John was reassigned to PT 341 and, though the men treated him well, he "felt like an orphan."

In 1945 John's squadron was waiting in the water near Okinawa. He didn't know for sure but he thinks maybe they were getting ready to invade Japan. But then the Americans dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered and the war in the Pacific was over.

"I think President Truman saved my life," John says.

I think many of our boys' lives were saved that day. Saved to, some of them, help their former enemies' countries rebuild their nations and establish American-like democracies. Saved to, most of them, return home and build their lives and raise their families. Just like John did. Our boys.

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