Sain Served In “Paradise”
Editor’s Note: The following story is the first in a series about Fulton County veterans who fought in World War II that will be published each week in the “News” through Veterans Day.
“At least I was on a floating island,” McConnellsburg resident Charles Sain recalled of his time in the South Pacific during World War II.
At the age of 17 and with the consent of his parents, Charles and Jewel Sain, “Buddy” Sain chose to enlist in the United States Navy in December 1943.
“They had to sign us up because we caused too much trouble at home,” jokes the 87-year-old, who said joining the military even in that tumultuous time “seemed like the right thing to do.”
Sain’s journey would take him from his home in Washington, D.C., and on to Bainbridge, Md., for basic training. It was likely the constant rain and thickening mud served as a constant remainder during those weeks at boot camp that he had chosen wisely to enlist and not be drafted into the Army.
“I don’t like laying in the mud and didn’t want to be drafted ... I preferred the comfort of a bunk,” said Sain. His bunk, following gunnery training school on the East Coast, would be aboard the USS Wisconsin BB64, one of four Iowaclass battleships. Constructed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the ship was launched on December 7, 1943, and commissioned the following April.
Even before its first “shakedown cruise” to Trinidad in the British West Indies and later setting course directly into the conflict in the South Pacific, Sain said he knew the ship contained all of the amenities of a home-awayfrom home. From a shop selling cigarettes and a store to buy ice cream to mail from loved ones being delivered by a “goonie bird” plane, Sain made the best of his time at sea. Also a small comfort was knowing childhood friend, Pete Click, was somewhere on board serving with the First Division. The duo, coincidentally, only saw eachotherthreetimesovera11/2 year period, not a surprise given that 3,000 men and 200 officers called the Wisconsin their home.
Preferring the night’s stars to the humidity of close quarters he shared with 50 other seamen, Sain would sleep on deck some nights. Dragging his mattress from below, he would awaken with the morning light to find himself sharing his new sleeping arrangements with a flying fish. “You don’t get tired of all the people,” Sain stated. “You just learn to ignore it.”
Sain couldn’t recall how long the Wisconsin was at sea before they entered into their first skirmish, but knew it wasn’t long after leaving Pearl Harbor that they had their first battle. Knowing the Japanese plane above was targeting their convoy’s carriers, Sain manned his 20-millimeter gunner. He said the sights on the guns were virtually useless in battle, so gunners often relied on the tracers they fired. In fact, every third bullet fired was a tracer, which left a trail in its wake, thereby improving the gunner’s ability to connect with its target.
“When you’re 17, you’re too dumb to be scared ... After the third or fourth attack, you got scared,” stated Sain. Having been awarded several commendations, including a Pacific Theater Ribbon (five stars), an American Theater Ribbon, a Victory Medal, a silver star and a Philippine Liberation Ribbon (two stars), Sain was part of several battles.
Having joined the 3rd Fleet commanded by Adm. F. Halsey in December 1944, the Wisconsin supported carriers in their mission of rendering useless Japanese facilities based in Manila and earned its first battle star in Leyte Gulf. The following month in January 1945, the Wisconsin and its men served as an escort for carriers using air strikes against Formosa, Luzon and the Nansei Shoto. Later, under the 5th Fleet, the Wisconsin helped the strike on Tokyo on the island of Honshu and aided in the landing operations against Iwo Jima.
Following one particular skirmish, Sain was transferred to the boiler or fire room where he served as a fireman first-class until he was honorably discharged in 1946. As a fireman, Sain helped below deck manning the ship’s boilers that were capable of reaching a maximum temperature of 850 degrees and maintained steam for the ship’s main engines. “It was pretty darn hot,” said Sain, who longed to return to his duties topside in the ocean breeze.
“We never had any idea where we were or where we were going,” said Sain, who along with fellow seamen were at the mercy of the sea and their commanding officers. On December 17, 1944, only one day after earning its first battle star, the Wisconsin and its convoy found themselves caught in a typhoon that sank three destroyers, which capsized and sank, taking with it its occupants. The Wisconsin escaped unharmed and, in fact, only suffered minor damage in all of its battles.
“It seemed like it (the typhoon) was after the captain. We went through it twice. The fool captain went the wrong way,” Sain recalled.
“At least I was on a floating island and not a tin can. I remember sometimes the tin cans would pull along side us, and we would throw over some cigarettes to their crew,” stated Sain, who added he has never for a minute regretted his service in World War II.
“I’ve never had such a good experience ... . It was paradise. It was darn good,” said Sain even though he turned down offers for two stripes on his sleeve and a chance to continue his naval career. Discharged April 1946, Sain returned to Washington, D.C., to find himself out of sorts and out of job.
“You were lost and didn’t know what to do,” Sain said. One month following his return and with the help of his father, he landed a job in the electrical department at the Navy Yard where he remained for 30 years.
Today, along with Donna, his wife of 48 years, he calls North First Street, McConnellsburg, his home and paradise.