Michael N. Khourie
U.S. Navy – Ensign and Chaplain
World War II (1943 – 1945)
Michael N. Khourie was born in Columbus, Ohio on May 10, 1922. Growing up, his father was a merchant and his mother was a housewife. Khourie had two other relatives who served in the army, cousins. One flew a B17 and was shot down over Germany. The other, a member of the First Division- Colonel Roosevelt’s Division, was wounded in the Invasion of Italy. Enlisting to avoid the draft, Khourie recalls his parent’s apprehension: “my mother didn’t want me to join the Navy, and I guess my dad didn’t, but you know if you were an able-bodied person you were going somewhere so they accepted that of course”.
Sent to Norfolk, Virginia for basic training, Khourie “enjoyed” boot camp. It was his first time away from home for a long period of time, and a completely new experience. On his first mission, assigned as the navigator and the chaplain on the ship, Khourie charted courses, reported positions, and led hymns and held short services. He reminisces: “in those days, a lot more people were religious. More so than today.” And for entertainment, the crew sang and talked to keep occupied on watch or on long strenuous journeys. And of his shipmates? Khourie found most of them agreeable except for his skipper, “he was not too friendly a guy.” And his captain, a pitcher for the New York Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, “didn’t know a damn thing about ships. It just shows you how desperate we were for manpower.”
Khourie’s anecdotes are hard to hear, and even harder to imagine: “in Subic Bay, a Japanese Zero appeared over the hill and went up on the bridge while we were on the hill. He was shooting right at me and he missed. He flew by me, and smiled. He had gold teeth. I was caught on a ladder coming down from the bridge. The ladder was totally exposed to the enemy gunfire.” He also recalls his experience with Pearl Harbor: “I was in Ohio when Pearl Harbor occurred, and I didn’t even know where Pearl Harbor was. I hardly knew where the Hawaiian Islands were actually. I was just a senior in high school, but it changed everything. It was kind of like 9/11. It just went from one set of circumstances to a totally different one. And thereon, you know you had to defend yourself.”
Upon arriving home, Khourie remembers being treated “royally”. Using the GI Bill, Khourie went to college, then on to law school, passed the bar in both Ohio and California, and has been practicing law in San Francisco ever since. His first encounter with San Francisco was idyllic: “I had never seen San Francisco before. The first view I had of the Golden Gate Bridge was looking up at the bottom of it. Then we broke through the fog, and I saw this beautiful city. It looked like a Greek Island. It was all white. I never realized there was a city like this, so at that moment I was experiencing San Francisco. I made up my mind to come out here and practice law, so that’s what I did.”
Believing that the war changed him, Khourie considers his involvement “the greatest experience in the world. You get into good physical shape, you meet a lot of new people, and you get a sense of patriotism.” With kind, blue eyes, he recalls one last fond memory of the war: “I was down in New Orleans waiting for my ship to come down the river and I had liberty for two months so I got really acquainted with the city, and well paid per diem. I think it was six dollars a day which was good money, so I ate in the best restaurants, went to the best bars, and met a lot of people. I had the time of my life.”
Interview by Kiersten Hosie on July 18, 2011.