SAN DIEGO - Sailors assigned to amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) attended a breakfast commemorating Memorial Day at the Naval Base San Diego Galley May 22, 2013.
Two retired World War II veterans who served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9), Bill Stefan, and Joe DuErmit, were the guests of honor and shared sea stories from their experiences at sea during the war and spoke about their jobs in the Navy.
“Back then the ships didn’t have a lot of comfort items built in,” said Stefan, who was a 2nd class machinist’s mate while on Essex and later retired from the Navy Reserves as a chief warrant officer. “But unlike some of the guys that joined the army or Marines, at least we had a shower every day on the ship.”
Stefan, who turned 88 in February, said he enlisted in the Navy for six years right after high school to avoid being drafted into the Army. He arrived aboard Essex in Sept. 1943, the same month that Joe DuErmit, who turns 88 this June, came aboard.
“From ’43 until the war ended we were on the ship together but never even knew each other,” said DuErmit, who was a seaman 1st class radio technician. “We worked in different parts of the ship and with a crew of 3,000 we just never met up until an Essex reunion many years later.”
Both men commented what a treat it was to sit with the current Sailors from their ship’s namesake.
“It is great for us to be able to speak to younger Sailors about what we did back then and ask them how Navy life is today,” Stefan said. “I really think it help's our Sailors to realize where they've come from and what it used to be like years ago."
Some of the questions were about how often they got mail, how long deployments were and how technology has changed over the years/
“We were out to sea for about a year before we had to go back to Bremerton, Washington for an overhaul,” said DuErmit. Then as soon as we were fixed up we went back out for another year until the war was over. The only time we would get mail was if another ship would come by and had something to pass along. Mostly the letters were few and far between.”
More than 50 Sailors from LHD 2 including the commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief listened intently to their veteran shipmates for nearly an hour.
"Being a surface warfare officer, I really enjoyed hearing the stories about engineering operations back then,” said Lt. Junior Grade Thomas Danner. "Hearing them speak put a more personal touch on Memorial Day for me, and it really makes me appreciate the level of technology our Sailors have with on our ships today”
Both veterans are members of the USS Essex Association and were also at the commissioning ceremony for Essex (LHD 2) in 1992.
“We have both had the chance to get underway with Essex for a couple of weeks with some of our family members since her christening, which was a special experience,” DuErmit said.
Essex’s Commanding officer Joker L. Jenkins thanked the men for sharing their time with the crew, and invited them to visit the ship when it leaves the shipyard after her 18-month dry-dock and maintenance period.
“It will be nice to see the ship after all of the repairs are complete,” Stefan said. “Having served on the former Essex, it is a great feeling to still be connected to the ship’s namesake and this crew even to this day.”