In Amos’ bedroom he’s formatted everything within reaching distance of his bed. And sits down rather than stand because at 86 years old — after falling several times over the past year — needs a cane to balance his shrunken 5”2’ frame.
But his driver’s license still depicts the description more closely related to his virile days in the military: a 5 foot 8 Black male with thick hair and defiant brown eyes. Today though, his children, concerned his feeble body can’t handle the rigors of driving, want nothing more than for his license to become a novelty trinket.
But ask him and he’s still the spry military soldier, even refusing to go to the hospital for dizziness and shortness of breath. “When I was on the ship I ate what I wanted,” he chuckled, reminiscing on his 220 pound frame.“I ate steak all the time.”
“I wanted to enter the war to end all wars.”
“I wanted the Marines but they picked the Navy,” he said with an inflection of disappointment “And because I was Black they made me a cook. Looking back on it now, being placed in the Navy probably saved my life.”
Because of the racist regulations of the 40’s Amos was relegated to only a Steward’s Mate albeit 1st Class. Regardless, they all trained under the same arduous war conditions. “I still had to go to gunnery school, and learn all the basic requirements,” he remembered. “Yet they only allowed me the title of Steward.”
His scrupulous nature is derived from his stint in the military during WWII; lasting from October 13 1943 until his eventual discharge in May of ’46.
“I can remember they wanted to get at me,” recalled my grandfather. “These boys were southerners who claimed the civil war wasn’t over, and that if I wasn’t careful I wouldn’t make it back to land,” he laughed before reciting the second half of their interaction. “But to be fair I talked just as bad.”
“I remember an ongoing confrontation with this one big, massive sailor. He kept on threatening me; told me everyday that he was gonna whip me. So I decided enough was enough so one day I got him in a choke. And I must have scared him half to death because from then on I heard not one word.”
Back then in the 1940’s, during a time of racial tension, my Grandfather, Amos, was constantly on the defense. Being Black his status in the Navy and the role he carved out for himself were weighted far less in the presence of soldiers of a lighter hue.
But today, with his daunting time at war long over, Amos just puts his blue Levi’s on one leg at a time and slides into those brown loafers of his dominant foot first. But unlike those men, he puts on another article before heading out on errands: a blue cap with the USS Franklin insignia, emboldened with a blazing bald eagle on the front.
Before he leaves the house there is a meticulous nature to the way he does things. His mental checklist has been focused down to a science.
Amos goes into the Kitchen and replenishes his 20 ounce plastic bottle with chilled Brita, afterward he places it on a tray table along with the rest of his essentials: paper towels, sea mineral scent hand sanitizer, toothpicks, and his desired reading for the day: local NY papers. He subscribed to the Daily and Newsday, and while on errands purchased the Post.
Sixty years ago, while floating in the South Pacific, Amos recalls preparing the day’s meal for the ship’s crew just before sirens blared over the intercom. The whole ordeal was abrupt, he says.
“My first thought was whether it was a drill or not,” Amos confessed. Over the ship’s intercom the Captain’s voice ordered everyone to their posts and the days mounting pressure began. “At that moment I knew it was real and not a test.”
Following the Captains orders over the intercom, the ship’s crew scrambled to their positions.
“It seemed as if wherever I went, all I saw was fire. I tried my damnedest to make it to the north of the ship.”
As ammunition went off and planes exploded, shipmates clamored for hoses to put out fires, while others attempted to put up any resemblance of a counter offensive against the attacking Japanese.
“I was ordered to go to my battle stations, but after I couldn’t reach my station I tried to help as much as I could. The problem was we had to duck to avoid explosions, fire, and our own ammunition.” The Fire cooked the ship’s armory turning their weapons against them.
The safest place for each sailor to be was topside of the ship. Mainly because of the open spaces and absence of live ammunition, but ironically that was where the initial assault from the Japanese suicide bombers occurred. It was best to see the enemy from above than to try and duck an invisible enemy piercing the walls from below.
“I entered because I wanted to fight.”
In the midst of a seemingly endless Japanese bombardment, Amos recalls the after effects of war. He ingested the worst smells imaginable: blood and burning flesh. “It smelled of death. It was so bad; I hate to even think about it.”
The sounds of war are especially tragic. “The yells were deafening,” he said. “In between the continuous bombings and gun shots, screams echoed throughout the ship.”
Despite all this Amos continued to trudge forth below deck.
“I was loading 44mm rounds into my ship’s guns. These rounds are big too. They’re 12 inches long and 6 inches wide, travel through the ship and are capable of knocking down flyers zipping through the sky.”
While some were regrettably entering into the military after getting drafted and others fleeing in order to escape the drafts menace, Amos welcomed war. “I had to lie about my age to convince them to accept me into the military; I put down I was born in ‘25. I had to protect my mom and six sisters.”
Once the attacks to the USS Franklin became too powerful to defend and the damage too overwhelming, the ship’s captain signaled for his crew to evacuate.
“After an hour, finally we were given the S2 signal to abandon ship.” Amos leaped off and escaped onto a retreating cruiser. “I was told to go to the hospital but I refused. I sat on that cruiser cold wrapped in a blanket 57 miles off the coast of Japan.”
by Jeremy L. Pasker