Things I Remember

A story told by Ben Couillard:

I remember that when I was 16, 17 and 18 years old, I was serving aboard the USS Yorktown CV10 as a member of the Flight Deck fire crew. We were returning to Pearl Harbor, HI after participating in the invasion of Tarawa and adjacent islands in the Marshalls and Gilberts in the latter part of Dec. 1943.

I remember that fire crew members Kirby, Stewart, Williams, Lippencott and I were sitting at the fire station. We were discussing recent events, like the ship’s guns shooting down our first Japanese plane-that was later referred to as the ‘Flaming Kate.’ Or maybe we were discussing the night the USS Liscome Bay plane landed on our flight deck and it jumped the last barrier and crashed into planes that had just landed, resulting in a fire and explosions that left several dead and wounded. We were fighting 100-foot flames and suddenly we could hear Jocko’s loud voice from the bridge-“GET THAT G.D. FIRE OUT!”

And we did in about 20 minutes.

I remember as we were having this discussion that the Athletic Officer, Lt. Lamb, walked over to us and out of the blue said, “Couillard, have you ever boxed before?” I replied, “Only among the gang back in Mississippi.” He asked that I take a walk with him and he then asked me if I would box in the ship’s “smoker” (boxing match) that he was having when we got back to Pearl Harbor. Well, I was 16 years old at that time and when you are that age… there’s nothing that you can’t do! So I said OK! I did not know who I was going to box, only that it would be a three-round bout and would be the first of several bouts leading up to the Heavy Weight Class. He suggested that I do some pushups and run around on the deck when I had time.

I remember that when we returned to Pearl Harbor, we anchored next to the sunken Battleship the USS Arizona where we could still see her mast sticking out of the water.

I remember the boxing ring was on the #1 elevator, lowered to the Hangar Deck. And just days after fighting that huge fire, I found myself sitting in the ring surrounded by Jocko, Commander Evans, Father Moody, Pappy Harshman and about 800 enlisted men. These men later became quite famous and a good part of the Greatest Generation.

I remember sitting in the ring waiting for the bell with a mouthpiece soaked in whiskey-which turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the evening. No need to tell you of the lumps and pain I endured in losing to a nice guy named Johnson. I found out later that he was the Golden Glove Champion, which Lt. Lamb had conveniently forgotten to mention!

But in spite of it all, this is one of the pleasant memories for this old sailor, who even now, once a year at Reunion time, remembers things that meant something only to those who were “one of us” way back in WWII. I send my love and best to those who remain and remember.