Manhattan WW II vet recounts war stories, secret code
By Erin Gallagher Correspondent June 5, 2014 7:38PM
WWII Navy veteran Jim Patterson kept a secret diary in his pocket during the war. It started with these pages of code to his parents so they knew where he was, since military mail was heavily censored. For example, when he wrote ÒDear Folks,Ó his parents knew he was in Pearl Harbor. Had he written ÒDear Ma,Ó it would have meant he was in Guam. Instead, he wrote ÒHello Folks,Ó when he was in the Philippines. | Erin Gallagher/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2014 6:40AM
On June 6, 1944, Seaman 2nd Class Jim Patterson was on a train. He had been drafted and just graduated from radioman school at the University of Chicago.
Alone on a Pullman to California without anyone to talk to, the 18-year-old could not realize the breadth of what Normandy meant. Nor did he foresee that D-Day marked the beginning of his imminent journey to events that changed history.
The Manhattan resident’s tall, lean stature was graceful as he retold stories of the war. He opened a small 3-inch-by-2-inch leather-bound notebook, wrapped with a red rubber band. He had carried the secret diary in his pocket the entire war.
It began with addresses, and a code for telling his parents his location. Military mail was censored with scissors. Patterson devised a way around it.
In the book, he wrote different salutations, each with a corresponding location. For example, when he wrote “Dear Folks,” his parents knew he was in Pearl Harbor. Had he written “Dear Ma,” it would have meant he was in Guam. Instead, he wrote “Hello Folks,” when he was in the Philippines.
The brown patina is worn from the diary that helps him remember. At nearly 90, he doesn’t recollect the details so well. Also because he never talked about the war until he attended the Honor Flight in April.
“I felt very humble,” he said about the trip to Washington, D.C., that honored World War II vets. “Deep down, I know we contributed ... but I just felt ‘I’m an American’ ... they looked to kids like me to serve their country and that’s all we did.”
He spent the summer of 1944 at Pearl Harbor waiting for deployment. Three years after the bombing, the graveyard harbor still was evident.
“It was so impressive,” he said of his time there. “Everywhere you looked you saw evidence of the devastation. I kept thinking how awful. It was a normal peacetime operation out there.”
Not one for notoriety, Patterson doesn’t broadcast his service, not even by wearing his USS Chandler cap. He doesn’t consider himself a hero, despite his participation in some of the most critical invasions in the Pacific Theatre.
“On October 20, 1944, we crossed the International Date Line and the equator on our way to sweep mines for the invasion of Leyte,” Patterson wrote in some notes. “We (on the Chandler) always arrived three or four days early to clear out the mines so the troops can land.”
At Leyte, the Japanese lost 49,000 troops, which forced them to rely on aamikaze planes at the subsequent Invasion of Luzon.
“All I can say is all hell broke loose,” Patterson wrote about Luzon. “For the first time, we encountered kamikaze planes by the hundreds.”
The Chandler traveled with four other ships. When the Kamikazes struck, Patterson saw one hit a sister ship 50 yards away.
“A (suicide) pilot was diving on us, and I swear to God I could reach up and shake his hand,” Patterson said. “I could see his profile and his leather hat. I can’t recollect much ... that is as vivid today as the day it happened.”
Of the five ships, only the Chandler survived Luzon unharmed. Another limped back to Pearl Harbor. The other three perished.
“The raids were relentless; wave after wave of planes just kept coming,” Patterson wrote. “Our gun crew fired 98 rounds of 3-inch 50 (caliber) shells in about 90 minutes.”
Patterson next went to Iwo Jima in February 1945.
“(The Kamikazes) did not show the same force as the Philippines; however this invasion was extremely costly in the way of U.S. casualties,” he wrote.
When Patterson was drafted, he was a typical teenager, “immature,” playing high school sports, and wanting to party with his friends, he said. Upon discharge June 4, 1946, nearly 68 years ago to the day, he was 20 years old. His rank was radioman 2nd class, earning $78 a month.