Veterans Day 2015: WWII crewman sailed Alaska, South Pacific

Born in Seattle, Winston “Win” Inslee joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 after finishing his second year of college in Iowa.
Born in Seattle, Winston “Win” Inslee joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 after finishing his second year of college in Iowa. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Winston “Win” Inslee, a 94-year old World War II Navy veteran, lives at The Leopold Retirement Residence in downtown Bellingham. Winston has two daughters, five granddaughters and 12 great-grandchildren. One daughter, two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren live in Bellingham, as well.

Born in Seattle in April 1921, Win joined the U.S. Navy in the spring of 1942, after finishing his second year of college in Iowa. He first served at Naval Station Neah Bay.

After leave to marry his sweetheart, Nedra Oppelt, in June 1943, Win shipped out from Bremerton on PC-601, a 173-foot, steel-hulled coastal patrol boat, bound for the Aleutians. His ship arrived at Kiska Island to discover the Japanese had abandoned the island days earlier. Returning to Kodiak, his ship ran aground on Williams Reef attempting a shortcut into the harbor. Win recalls the crew having to be rescued by the Army, to their humiliation.

Win was then transferred to San Diego and shipped out in July 1944 on the USS Roi, a Casablanca-class escort carrier. After a shakedown cruise, his ship headed in August 1944 for the South Pacific, delivering aircraft and crews to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides and then to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. A second voyage returned to Manus Island to deliver planes to support the defense of New Guinea and the invasion of the Philippines.

As part of his storekeeper duties on an escort carrier, “Win” Inslee made sure the skipper was supplied with strawberries.

When the Roi returned to San Diego prior to its third voyage in December 1944, Win remained in San Diego with Nedra as they awaited the birth of their first daughter, in July 1945. His final duty was at the Farragut, Idaho, Naval Training Station, before his honorable discharge at Bremerton on Dec. 14, 1945.

Win remembers the excitement of crow’s-nest duty on the patrol boat in the Aleutians and Bering Sea, proud that he never suffered from seasickness. On the Roi, he had storekeeper duties and was charged with making sure the skipper was always supplied with strawberries.

He enjoyed time ashore on Manus Island securing supplies for the ship, stealing a little quiet time to sketch and explore. He was fortunate to never face live fire in a combat situation, but proud of the part he did in the war effort.

Win went on to a master’s degree in drama from the University of Washington, a 30-plus-year teaching career at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, and various avocations as a registered clown (“Little Bit”), a rodeo clown, a pen-and-ink artist (he started by doing caricatures for naval officers), and an accomplished woodcarver.

He and Nedra retired to Samish Island and later Marysville. He lost Nedra, his love of over 66 years, in April 2010. Shortly after, he moved to the Leopold.

He now enjoys visits from his many family members, some of whom live in Bellingham. In 2014 he refreshed his love of the sea with an Alaska ferry trip, and threatened to stow away when it returned to Bellingham.

On March 2, 2015, he received a visit from his cousin, Gov. Jay Inslee, who declared it Winston Inslee Day.

Related stories from Bellingham Herald