U.S. Navy; USS Hornet, USS Bunker Hill, USS Yorktown,
USS Bennington, USS Wasp – Radioman 2nd Class
World War II and Korean War (1943-1955)
Harold Anderson knows he has a story to tell. The former U. S. Navy radioman spent his entire military career tapping out top-secret transmissions in Morse code to fighter pilots, ship commanders and administrative staff in the expansive Pacific Fleet in the 1940s.
Anderson often worked from the bowels of the ship and seldom saw the light of day. He survived two Japanese kamikaze attacks on the USS Bunker Hill and served on a number of ships, mostly carriers, during World War II and the Korean War conflict. “Everything was in code in those days,” Anderson said at his home, reminiscing about his war years. “We sometimes had to work 24-hour watches. And I had top-secret clearances.”
Now, the 88-year-old veteran lives quietly in a modest Novato home. About a decade ago, Anderson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative condition that has robbed him of his ability to communicate – the very duties he performed so well during his nearly decade-long Naval career.
Today, most of Anderson’s Navy memorabilia are stuffed in a weathered manila envelope, including old newspaper clippings, copies of photographs, actual Navy transcriptions and commendations from Navy brass. It also contains unit citations as well as his top-secret clearance card.
Anderson doesn’t talk much about the Navy. Many of his memories remain frozen in time. “He has better days and not so good days,” said his son Dave Anderson, who helps Anderson with most of his daily activities. “He gets frustrated sometimes. But he was always a hard worker. It wasn’t that many years ago that he helped me roof my house. He was always helping others.”
Parkinson’s affects the central nervous system first with the most obvious symptoms being shaking and rigidity, progressing to dementia and depression in the later stages.
One of 11 children born to William and Victoria Anderson in Bemidji, Minnesota, Harold helped his father pick up and deliver mail as a young boy. On Sept. 20, 1943, at the age of 18, he was inducted into the military. With two years of high school under his belt, Anderson chose the Navy.
“The funny thing was, he didn’t know how to swim,” his son Dave said. “I guess he faked it.”
Anderson served on the USS Hornet, the Bunker Hill, the Yorktown, the Bennington and the Lexington. He also did a stint on the amphibious assault ship, the USS Wasp.
He made second class as a radioman and was onboard the Bunker Hill in 1945 when two Japanese kamikaze pilots unleashed a pair of 550-pound bombs on the morning of May 11.
The first bomb penetrated the flight deck and exited at the galley level before exploding in the Pacific. The plane crashed into the deck and caused a huge fire. Then about 30 seconds later, a second plane struck at the carrier’s island – the main nerve center, crashed through the flight deck and exploded.
A total of 346 sailors and airmen died that day, 43 more went missing and were never found and 264 were wounded. Anderson survived and remembered the dreadful day. “Yes, I remember,” Anderson said, softly.
Anderson, along with those who survived the attack on the Bunker Hill, received the Presidential Unit Citation. It was signed by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal on behalf of the President. The citation reads: “for extraordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces in the air, ashore and afloat in the South, Central, Southwest and Western Pacific. . .”
Anderson also received commendations aboard the Wasp and the Yorktown, and a ribbon for his contributions in Korea. “He still has his Morse Code books in the garage,” Dave Anderson said. “I didn’t know much about all of this until I took him for his 80th birthday a few years ago to visit the USS Hornet in Alameda. He was reliving it all.”
Gertrude Canet, 94, is Anderson’s oldest surviving sibling. She also served in the Navy. Canet said all seven Anderson boys served. “I had so many brothers to talk to, I didn’t have time to listen to one,” Canet said by telephone. They never discussed their duties overseas. We were sworn, we couldn’t say anything.”
Anderson’s brother Leonard died when a Japanese submarine torpedoed the USS Indianapolis July 30, 1945 in the Pacific. The cruiser sunk in 12 minutes, and only 316 sailors of 1,196 on board survived — the single most loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy.
A few years later, Anderson was honorably discharged from the Navy in San Francisco. After the military, Anderson worked a number of jobs, working for the railroad, delivering mail and driving trucks.
He has three grown children, Dave, Lisa, Karen, six grand children and four great grand children. His wife, Betty Jane Christine Anderson, died in 2011.
“Harold, he has always been the dreamer of the family,” Canet said. “The good Lord does things sometimes in mysterious ways, we’re not to understand.”
Interview by Joe Wolfcale, SF Bay Area Journalist, on August 7, 2013.