Sunday, August 19, 2001

Sailors reunited after 56 years

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        RISING SUN, Ind. — They were just kids when some of them last saw one another, when the war had ended and they began to ship home, a couple of years older, a bit more weary.

        They came home and married and raised families and thought fleetingly of those 18 months or so they spent together in the Pacific during World War II.

        “We were just kids, really,” said John Smith, who is 75 and lives in Newton, W.Va. “We lost contact. We came home, we got busy. But I constantly thought about these guys.”

        On Saturday, after more than half a century, four of the crew who served aboard Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 1321 got together for their very first reunion.

        While most every day somewhere in the country veterans groups get together to celebrate annual reunions, these four hadn't been together since they left the navy. Three of the four hadn't seen each other in 55 years.

        The four are all that is left or can be found from among a tiny crew of a dozen or so sailors who served aboard LCT 1321. The amphibious workhorse of the U.S. Navy moved tanks and equipment, troops and supplies around the Pacific during the war.

        The reunion brought together Mr. Smith; Clarence Egbert, 76, of Kewanee, Ill.; William Perry, 75, of West Milford, N.J.; and Lawrence Smith, 76, of Kokomo, Ind. They spent Saturday re-con necting and reaching out across a half-century to reminisce about shared experiences.

        But it was also an opportunity for Pete Nocks, of Aurora, who hosted the reunion, to learn more about his father, Jackie Nocks. The elder Mr. Nocks served aboard LCT 1321 and died in 1959 when Pete was just 11 years old.

        “I was 11 years old and I never really did talk to my dad about the war,” said Mr. Nocks. “I thought I'd kind of like to meet some of the guys that he served with. I thought that'd give me a chance to find out some things, too.”

        So he had them over his house, took them to Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun, planned a cook-out at his home today and learned just by listening the life his father had led for 18 months aboard an LCT.

Remembering Romeo
               He heard about the cramped quarters the crew lived on aboard the LCT, how the bunks were stacked three deep, about the tiny galley where Spam was served up, the slowness of the LCT as it moved from New Guinea to Borneo and finally to the Philippines ferrying troops and supplies.

        He heard the story of how the LCT carried the rough-hewn coffins of 700 American soldiers out to another ship for transport back to the states.

        “The whole deck was full of coffins,” recalled Mr. Perry. “I went to the top (of the LCT) to get some fresh air. It was hard even to swallow.”

        Jackie Nocks was a gunner's mate, one well-liked by the rest of the crew.

        “I remember him as our Romeo,” said John Smith. “He wrote to all the girls in Indiana. He was the guy who got all the mail.”

        “He grew a mustache and thought of himself as Clark Ga ble,” said Mr. Egbert.

        He found unclaimed dog tag chains and sold them to Australian soldiers for Dutch guilders, which he eventually converted into American money.

        “Your dad was a trader in contraband,” John Smith kidded Pete Nocks.

A crew reborn
               They lived with an abiding fear of the enemy swimming out to their ship and attaching a mine to it. Those who stood watch would shoot at anything in the water, including bobbing coconuts. Lawrence Smith told of leaving barrels of water out in the sun during the day and using the heated water for baths.

        “We didn't ask for anything, we just did what we needed to do,” said John Smith.

        They talked of getting together next year, perhaps in West Virginia.

        “This is the rebirth of our crew,” said Mr. Perry.


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