PORT HADLOCK — Naval Magazine (NAVMAG) Indian Island Commanding Officer Nicholas Vande Griend and sailors visited with WWII Navy veteran Ed Adams and listened to his war stories at Port Townsend’s Seaport Landing Retirement Center October 6, 2016.
Adams was a senior at Roosevelt High School in Port Angeles when the Imperial Japanese fleet attacked Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, nearly 75 years ago. He was in the Methodist church with his mother when they learned of the attack. On his birthday November, 10, 1942 he enlisted in the Navy. Adams says he wanted to go directly into combat against the Imperial Japanese military. Instead the Navy trained him to be a Medic. “I wasn’t happy with that,” he said. But over time the job grew on him.
Assigned to the troop transport USS Tryon (APH-1) with Cmdr. Alfred J. Byrholdt, from 1943 through 1945, Adams and his shipmates helped put Marines into action at Guadalcanal, Saipan, the Solomons, the Marianas, Tinian, the Palaus, Leyte, Luzon, and just about every other island on the road to Tokyo. “We would get the Marines into the action and then we would wait for their return,” he remembers. It was here that Adams came to appreciate his Navy training. “They would come back to us, some without arms and some without legs. It was my job to save as many as I could,” he explained. “We saved many, but we lost some.”
The USS Tryon could transport up to 1,274 troops along with a crew of 460 officers and enlisted Sailors. The USS Tryon and her crew earned six “battle stars” during WWII. Historically, during World War II and the Korean War, commendations called “battle stars” were issued to United States Navy warships for meritorious participation in battle, or for having suffered damage during battle conditions.
The Guadalcanal Campaign code-named Operation Watchtower was fought between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan. The Allies overwhelmed the outnumbered Japanese defenders. Dominant American and Australian naval forces supported the landings primarily by U.S. Marines. Three major land battles, seven large naval battles (five nighttime surface actions and two carrier battles), and continual, almost daily, aerial battles culminated in the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in early November 1942. Along with the Battle of Midway, it has been called a turning-point in the war against Japan. The Allied plan to invade was conceived by U.S. Admiral Ernest King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet.
Adams recalls one particularly harrowing night of watch when he and one other Sailor in a dinghy were tasked with looking out for Imperial Japanese attackers attempting to bomb the USS Tryon. “It was pitch-black out,” he remembers. Suddenly out of the fog they see a Japanese soldier aboard a small raft loaded with explosives headed for the troop transport. “Me and this other guy decide to take him prisoner. One of us grabs his head and the other one grabs his feet. He was none too pleased with us,” Adams explains. The enemy prisoner of war is thrown in the brig aboard the Tryon, but unfortunately there was no translator should he decide to talk.
Asked if he thought of himself as part of “America’s Greatest Generation,” as Tom Brokaw has referred to the WWII generation, Adams says “I was just doing my job.” Adams and his shipmates spent two plus years aboard ship island hopping until his ship’s engine went kaput. “We were dead in the water,’ he remembers. Finally the ship’s engineers were able to put the engine back together and Adams and his crew sailed for repairs at Pearl Harbor. Upon arrival he and his friends were given a well-deserved shore pass. But that didn’t last long. Soon the shore patrol told him and his shipmates to return to the ship immediately.
The Captain told the crew he had some good news and some bad news. The bad news was that the ship could not be repaired at Pearl Harbor. The good news was they were headed stateside for repairs after two plus years at sea. Upon arrival in San Francisco Adams says he and a handful of his shipmates met U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
His final Navy duty station was Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Adams left the Navy in January 1946 and went to Central Washington University on the G.I. bill earning a teacher’s certificate. He spent the rest of his working career as a teacher and a principal. Adams said he’s glad that America and Japan are now friends.
Adams met his wife of 66 years Thanksgiving weekend 1946. “Me and some other guys were playing canasta and her and a friend joined in,” he recalls. “We’ve been together ever since.” Ed and Dee have three children Scott Adams of Fresno; Brent Adams of Reno; and Pamela Adams who lives in Oregon.
Ed and Dee have lived in the Port Townsend Seaport Landing Retirement Center for five years now. NAVMAG is now planning to host Adams and other veterans from Seaport Landing Retirement Center for an upcoming tour of Indian Island.
“I believe it is critical for our Sailors to be in touch with this important part of our Navy’s heritage,” Commander Vande Griend explained. “It’s one thing to read about our naval history, it’s another to hear from someone who lived through it. Each time we come to visit with our Navy veterans we learn something vital. We celebrate the 241st Navy birthday Thursday (October 13, 2016). What better way to celebrate our heritage but to hear a living portrayal of our lineage?”