For Huntingdon resident and Navy veteran Norman Quinn, Veterans Day provokes many thoughts and and stories.
Now 94, Quinn sailed across the Atlantic and the Pacific in service for his country during World War II.
He entered the U.S. Navy in June 1943 at the age of 19 after graduating from high school in Huntingdon in 1942, going through basic training at the Sampson Naval Station in New York.
Quinn remembers the feeling in the country just after the U.S. entered the war.
“The attitude then was everyone was very patriotic. Out of my class, about half of them enlisted. We were gung-ho. We couldn’t wait to get over there and beat the Germans and the Japanese,” he said.
There was a particular need for sailors at the time.
“I wanted to join the Marines, but at that time they needed a lot of sailors because the German submarines, the Wolfpack, were sinking lots of our ships. I got assigned to a gunnery crew and manned guns on the merchant ships, which was an excellent duty for being in the Navy.”
The German forces would target merchant ships to keep the Allied forces from receiving key supplies across Europe.
Assigned to a 20-man unit on the SS Thomas Stone, Quinn made two trips across the Atlantic, defending allied merchant ships from enemy aircraft and submarine boats.
“I made two trips. In the first we went over to Gibraltar and Algiers and Oran, where we delivered supplies and troops,” he said.
During the second trip across the Atlantic, they were loaded with flour and train cars to Naples, Italy.
“That was when they were fighting up there in about the middle of the boot. We had to unload on a barge going about 2 mph. There was no big harbor there to pull into. The Germans would shoot these .88s. They were the best guns in the war. Not all the time, but you never knew when they were going to lob those in,” said Quinn.
Despite the Germans sinking several ships at Naples, the S.S. Thomas Stone successfully unloaded the much needed supplies.
He then received additional training in gunnery at Little Creek, Virginia, before heading to the Pacific.
He was assigned to the LST (Landing Ship Tank) 729 which island hopped across the Pacific, supplying U.S. troops invading the Marshall Islands, Palau, Philippines, new Guinea, Guadalcanal and Okinawa.
The LST 729 was part of the invasion force for the battle of Okinawa, Japan.
“We went up two days before the invasion and tried to hide,” said Quinn. “We were head of our task force. There were 13 ships with us. The first night it was good. They didn’t see us. But the second night they found us.”
The Japanese had a considerable aircraft presence and the Allied forces took heavy fire on the first day of the battle.
“The first day the Army landed... We were loaded with ammunition so they needed us. It was exciting and dangerous. But I was only 19 years old, I had the feeling I was going to be alright.”
That night, the fighting did not let up.
“The first night everyone was shooting. We had aircraft carriers and cruisers guarding the big bay where we were at. They shot down most of the aircrafts but some got through...when we hit that beach at night we had to make smoke. We’d go out at night and make smoke so the Japanese couldn’t find us. The first night we returned fire. Anything that made a noise everyone was shooting at. I suppose there must have been 800 ships in that bay. “
After the Battle of Okinawa ended, Quinn recalled how he and his fellow soldiers were surprised that the Japanese surrendered.
“I didn’t know the war was coming to an end,” he said. “We didn’t hear right away about the atomic bomb, then we heard it. They sent us to Manila, and we were going into Manilla Bay and we got word they dropped the bomb. They left us in the harbor for four or five days and then they dropped the other bomb. Soon after that they surrendered. And then in Manilla Bay, I saw the biggest fireworks display you’d ever saw in your life,” he said.
“We were shocked that they gave up...the Army didn’t take many prisoners because the Japanese fought to the end.”
Soon after, Quinn was discharged from the base at Bainbridge Maryland and was able to return home.
He obtained the rank of Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class and was awarded the WWII Victory Medal, The American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and The Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
He had a 36-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad and has participated in the Frank P. Hommon American Legion Post 24 and Standing Stone VFW Post 1754, both in Huntingdon, and served as treasurer of the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Co. for 40 years.
Quinn said he has a lot to think about Veterans Day.
“You get mixed feelings. We were fortunate, we didn’t lose anybody on our ship. I miss the friends I made. And I think a lot about the ones who didn’t make it back. They’re the ones that deserve all this, not me,” he said. “I just happened to be on a team that won.”