Asked why his ship’s crew played the same role in the World War II invasions of Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, gunner’s mate Edward Robbins says, “We were that good.” His crewmate, Will Pereira of Novato, shoots back, “Don’t believe a word he says.”
The two were ribbing each other at the 20th reunion of the crew of the USS LST-70 at Pereira’s home in Novato on Friday, attended by about 30 people, including spouses, children and grandchildren of the war veterans.
The crew, made up of both Coast Guard and Navy sailors, scattered across the United States in 1945 at the end of the war. In 1992, crew member Hewitt Underwood, a Louisiana resident, tracked down his crew members and held the first reunion at his home.
Will Pereira’s point to a spot on his painting of the USS LST-70 as he tells a story of his time aboard the ship during WWII at his home in Novato, Calif. Friday, September 7, 2012. The gatherings have been going on annually ever since.
“This event is huge for them. They bring their photo albums and share their stories,” said Jenny Underwood, Pereira’s oldest granddaughter, who lives with the 87-year-old veteran. “This might be the last reunion, with all the gentlemen at the age they are.”
Born in Sausalito, Pereira has lived in Novato since 1954. He joined the Navy in 1943. A Navy motor machinist mate 2nd class, it was Pereira’s job to make sure the ship’s engines were running.
During the battle of Iwo Jima, he witnessed the iconic raising of the U.S. flag on top of Mount Suribachi by five U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy battlefield Hospital Corpsman — an event immortalized in one of the best-known photographs in U.S. history.
“I was on break, and I saw something happening on Mount Suribachi. So I took out my spyglass and looked. I just thought, oh well, the Marines are putting up a flag,” laughed Pereira.
The photograph of the flag-raising, taken by Novato resident Joseph Rosenthal, went on to earn a Pulitzer Prize. The battle was a decisive victory for the United States.
While Pereira kept the ship’s engines running, Robbins, now 85, kept the guns firing. He spent many a battle on deck tending to the guns.
“We were strafed several times,” Robbins said. “There was no protection at all on the deck of the ship.” He wasn’t frightened, Robbins said.
“You don’t have time to be frightened. You have a job to do. You were trained to do your job, and you do it,” said Robbins, a retiree who sold insurance after returning to his Indiana home in 1945. None of the crew of 200 enlisted men and 15 officers on the ship died during the war, Pereira said. The ship’s primary purpose was transportation. It carried amphibious tractors to the beaches.
While centered around Pereira’s home, with a barbecue on Friday, this year’s reunion, which began Wednesday and continues to Saturday, included other activities. The group went on a bay cruise, a visit to Alcatraz, shopping and lunch at Pier 39 and dinner in Sausalito. A business meeting was scheduled for Saturday.
The reunion has a special meaning for Pereira’s family. “My husband lost two uncles in Iwo Jima, on Japan’s side,” said Sharon Pereira-Matsumoto, Pereira’s daughter. “When we got engaged, I sat my parents down to tell them. I said my fiance was Japanese, and Dad didn’t bat an eye. I said, ‘But you were at war with the Japanese.’ He said, ‘Oh, that means nothing. Is he a good man? Does he make you happy?’”
Pereira and the crew returned to the United States for good in December 1945. “Standard speed is 270 turns. I kicked the throttle up to emergency (levels) on the way home,” the former motor machinist said. “An officer asked how fast we were going and I said, ’270 turns.’ He said, ‘sure.’ He knew I wanted to get back home for Christmas Eve.”
Interview by Janis Mara, Marin Independent Journal, on September 7, 2012.