Veterans’ Reflections: A Life of Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2010 — If all you knew about Bill Sum­n­er was that he joined the mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II a day after grad­u­at­ing from high school, that would say plen­ty about his char­ac­ter and ded­i­ca­tion to his coun­try. But it marked only the begin­ning of a life of ser­vice.

World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Dur­ing an Oct. 13, 2010, inter­view at the World War II Memo­r­i­al in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Sum­n­er — a vet­er­an of World War II, the Kore­an War and the Viet­nam War — dis­cuss­es his mil­i­tary expe­ri­ences.
DoD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class William Sel­by
Click to enlarge

When he left for boot camp in 1942, the Unit­ed States was involved in World War II, Sum­n­er said, and he had to do his part.

“A few months lat­er I was trans­ferred to Pearl Har­bor and was sta­tioned aboard the USS Mahan,” he said.

On Dec. 7, 1944, the USS Mahan was patrolling between Leyte and Pon­son Island when a squadron of Japan­ese air­craft found it.

“They were head­ing home after bomb­ing an inva­sion force, and I guess the Amer­i­can P‑38 start­ed to hit them,” Sum­n­er said. “So they decid­ed [that] rather than go home, they would just destroy us.”

Dur­ing the ensu­ing bat­tle, Sum­n­er said, the nine twin-engine Bet­tys were div­ing into the ship one at a time, but only three of the air­craft actu­al­ly hit the Mahan.

“The first one hit mid­ship, and the sec­ond one hit us between two stacks,” he added. “The third one missed us and then came back around and hit us.”

The ship was explod­ing from all the muni­tions and weapons onboard, and there was noth­ing to extin­guish the fires, because one of the planes knocked out the pow­er to the ship, Sum­n­er recalled. With no pow­er and no water to fight the fires, the Mahan’s skip­per decid­ed it would be best for the crew to jump over­board. But, Sum­n­er said, there was one thing he could­n’t leave the ship with­out.

“I had a dog onboard,” he said. “His name was Butch. He was a cock­er spaniel, and he was our ship’s mas­cot. I went down below to get him, and then we all jumped off the ship into the water.”

The Mahan’s crew float­ed in the water for rough­ly two hours while wait­ing to be picked up, and even­tu­al­ly was sight­ed and picked up by the crew mem­bers USS Walke, a flat-bot­tomed land­ing ship.

Sum­n­er said when Walke was ready to start tak­ing sailors on board, none of the crew would go until Butch was safe­ly aboard a fair­ly fun­ny addi­tion to an oth­er­wise less-than-com­i­cal sto­ry. After the sailors from the Mahan had board­ed the Walke, the deci­sion was made to sink the list­ing ship.

The sur­viv­ing sailors did not get to come home imme­di­ate­ly, and Sum­n­er stayed aboard the Walke. While leav­ing the Philip­pines, Sumner’s ship was chal­lenged, he said, only this time it was­n’t the Japan­ese.

“We were on the way back from the Philip­pines, and we hit the edge of Halsey’s Typhoon,” he said. “And believe me, that was [scari­er] by far than being sunk.”

Sum­n­er returned to the Unit­ed States after trav­el­ing aboard five dif­fer­ent ves­sels over three months, and he was assigned to the USS Steinack­er on the East Coast. Soon after that, Sum­n­er received an hon­or­able dis­charge from the Navy.

Years passed, and after he earned a degree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Neva­da, Sum­n­er decid­ed to seek a com­mis­sion as an Air Force offi­cer. He served in the Air Force for 22 years, includ­ing time spent as a bom­bardier nav­i­ga­tor fly­ing com­bat mis­sions in the Kore­an and Viet­nam wars. All told, Sum­n­er spent 27 years serv­ing in the armed forces. He fought in three major wars and retired as a lieu­tenant colonel.

He said serv­ing his coun­try was the most impor­tant thing he ever did.

“I am deeply, deeply heart­felt about my expe­ri­ences in the ser­vice,” he said. “To me, I think it’s one of the great­est expe­ri­ences a per­son could ever have.”

(“Vet­er­ans’ Reflec­tions” is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries of men and women who served their coun­try in World War II, the Kore­an War, the Viet­nam War, oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day con­flicts. They will be post­ed through­out Novem­ber in hon­or of Vet­er­ans Day.)

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →