WWII Navy mechanic helped civilians recover from war

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 11, 2011 

11 Veterans - Studebaker

Karl Studebaker

COURTESY — TO THE HERALD

My name is Karl H. Studebaker. I was born Nov. 12, 1918, in Colville and was raised in Sedro-Woolley. After graduating from high school in 1936 I worked with my father logging for a few months, then enlisted in the Navy in December of 1936.

I earned a stint in machinist school at Norfolk, Va., and was assigned to the battleship USS West Virginia. I served as a small boat mechanic and ship machinist for the rest of my hitch. I was also the engineer of Admiral I.C. Kidd's personal boat, called the "Admiral's Barge."

We entered many ports, went through the Panama Canal several times and practiced warfare on the open seas. In July 1939, while my ship was berthed at Bremerton for maintenance, I took leave and returned to Sedro-Woolley to marry my high school sweetheart. I was mustered out in October 1940 and returned to civilian life.

In December 1944, I was drafted back into the Navy. They wanted older servicemen for a new branch of the service called "civil affairs," to take care of civilians as our boys retook the Pacific islands. We assembled at Fort Ord and went through basic Army training, then boarded a Liberty ship for Okinawa.

After arriving two to three days late due to a malfunctioning boiler, we anchored in a long line of armored ships firing continuously at what they called an escarpment, a tall rocky ridge that ran clear across the island. It was about five days before we started getting organized. We needed, tents, cots, blankets, etc.

Taking care of civilians involved rebuilding bombed-out villages, providing food and administering medical care. My specific job involved keeping the motor vehicles running, which was quite a challenge given the scarcity of supplies. When a car battery charger arrived damaged beyond repair, I carried a "low" and a "dead" battery in my jeep and paralleled them with the jeep's battery, which charged them (another "make do").

We had an Army outpost around us to protect us from Japanese deserters who tried to break in to our villages to get food. They would get rid of their rifles and bayonets, but keep their grenades. I took a headlight and a battery and taped a stick to the headlight unit to make a "pistol-grip" spotlight so the sentries could turn the spotlight on when there was stirring in the brush outside the camp.

On one occasion, someone tripped a grenade and I was so close that it caused me to lose hearing in one ear and most of it in the other ear. After I returned home I attempted to obtain hearing aids through the Veterans Administration, but was denied because I did not have sufficient documentation.

In December 1945, my time to serve my country was over. We won the battle. I returned home to my wife and two sons and to civilian life. I thank God for His divine protection over me, my family and my country.

Karl Studebaker lives in Bellingham.

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