“During the Second World War, every young man wanted to serve his country. It was in my DNA from my father who had volunteered and become an officer in the army in the First World War and served 17 months in France. Our freedom and our country were under siege. Had Japan or Germany won the Second World War, there would be no America as we know it today. The whole nation was behind the war effort. My three sisters got jobs to help in the war effort while continuing their schooling. No person in uniform could stand on a street corner more than a few moments before a car or two cars would stop and say ‘Where can I take you?’ not just downtown, but ‘What city are you going to?’ The nation had come together.”
-J. Blanton Belk
During World War II, America was flooded with patriotism. Young men from across the country were eager to provide their services. One of these young men was my grandfather.
My grandfather, J. Blanton Belk, is a proud veteran of World War II. His time in service was a very important period in his life, and he has so many incredible stories from his time in the navy.
When did you serve?
I served from 1943 to 1946.
Where did you serve?
I served in the South Pacific, more specifically in the Philippine Islands.
What branch of the military did you serve in?
I served in the US Navy.
Did you enlist in the war or were you drafted? If you were enlisted, why did you make this decision?
I enlisted when I was 17. I wanted to serve in the Navy, and if I waited until [I was] 18, I would have been drafted in to the US Army.
Could you tell me a little bit about your biggest accomplishment in the Navy?
To navigate a small navy ship across the great Pacific today is comparatively easy compared to the task in the 1940s. The GPS had not been invented, and the boat was not equipped with radar. There were no landmarks to go by. You were days and days out to sea without sight of any land. Celestial navigation had been passed on by ancient mariners. The stars, planets, sun and the moon were the key. There were also two compasses on the boat. The old standby, the magnetic compass and the more recent called the Gyro. The helmsman and the officer of the day were commissioned to record in the ship’s log the compass-heading, hour by hour. In very stormy weather with total cloud cover, the compass was the sole instrument for the ship’s heading. At sundown, when stars first appear in the heavens, there is about a 20 to 30 minute period when star sights can be taken with a sextant. One must identify the stars by name and attempt to get preferably four shots of different stars north, south, east, and west and record the altitude from the sextant. Down inside the cabin they worked out the position of the boat. Using the navigation cables prepared by an inventor called Bowditch.
With orders, we took off from the Philippine islands escorting two other PC Boats bound for the states. The Pacific Ocean is anything but peaceful. Some days it was like a calm millpond without a ripple, and some days the sea was raging with green water breaking over the bow racing over the deck and over the stern when no sailor dared to be outside. 7,000 miles we traveled from the Mariana Islands to Enewetak islands and the Marshall Islands. To Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and then to Astoria, Oregon, in the USA.
How has the military and the attitude towards it changed since your time in service?
In the Second World War, we had the whole nation behind us. Today it is mostly a divided nation concerning war.
How do you feel now about serving in the War?
I was proud to serve as an officer in the US Navy in World War II. I believed it was my patriotic duty.