Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016: It’s Personal!

Brushy Creek Journal
Friday November 11, 2016
Partly Cloudy 58°F/14°C in Cedar Park, Texas
   The first veteran who comes to my mind every November 11th is my father, Charlie Botula. That’s
Lt. Charles Botula, Jr.
a natural. He’s my dad. He served in the US Navy during two long years in World War 2. His ship, the LST 920 saw action at Normandy and in the Pacific. He survived a U boat attack off the coast of England in 1944 and sweated through Kamikaze attacks at Okinawa in 1945. Unlike so many other brave souls, he returned from the war physically unscathed to a loving family in December 1945. Once home, he joined millions of other veterans building new lives in post-war America.
   After I retired in 2004 following a long career in broadcast journalism and government service, I set about writing a book about my dad’s wartime experiences. Last summer LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books. (Christmas shopping hint!). During the course of my research and writing I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to a number of the veterans who either served with my dad aboard LST 920, or survived the U boat attack on its sister ship, LST 921.  Very few of them survive in 2016. The final chapter in the book is my Epilog, an update on the sailors I came into contact with during this project. I would like to share it with you on this Veteran’s Day:

LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!
These are not dark days! These are great days; the greatest days our country has ever lived.
Winston Churchill
 Charles and Mary Botula returned to Riverhead, N.Y. early in 1946. After moving five times in eleven months as they struggled with the post-war housing shortage, they bought a home on East
Skip and Charles Botula 1945
Main Street and settled in to raise their two sons. The Navy veteran at first returned to his pre-war job with the Personal Finance Company while Skip Botula stayed at home to help raise their two boys. Changing jobs, Charles worked as an office equipment salesman for several years before striking out on his own with his pre-war buddy Jim Mulligan, a returning Army veteran. The two vets opened a debt collection agency serving Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties. When my brother and I got a little older, our mother returned to nursing, and became a working mother until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1955. Faced with overwhelming medical bills and the loss of Skip’s income, Charlie drew on his college degree and his Navy service and went to work for county government as a Suffolk County, New York probation officer.  Mary lost her battle with cancer and died in April 1961. Skip was 49. Charles died of a broken heart four years later in October 1965, at age 56.
Mike and Packy Botula 2016
My brother Packy and I went through the local schools and graduated from Riverhead High School. I graduated in 1958 and embarked on a career in radio and television. My brother Charles, who I had given the life-long nickname of Packy, graduated in 1963, went on to the State University of New York, Buffalo, earned a commission in the U.S. Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice during the Vietnam War. During a later assignment Packy Botula flew Air Force Two, the aircraft designated to fly the Vice President of the United States. During his tour, he numbered Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and George H.W. Bush among his passengers. Charles and Mary were role models for their sons and other family members of the next generation. Charles’ godson, Bernard Botula, my cousin, shared the same birth date with dad – October 23rd. Bernie was born in 1929, the year of the great Wall Street Crash and like so many in my family, came of age during the Great Depression and World War 2. My father was the first member of his immigrant family to graduate from college. His godson, Bernard Botula was the first to earn an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He was commissioned in 1954 and assigned to one of the nation’s first nuclear submarines.
The LST 920’s Captain, Harry Neil Schultz remained in the Navy after the war, eventually
Harry Schultz
attaining the rank of Commander by the time he retired. Members of his family said that he never talked much about his wartime experiences. Schultz’ four brothers were also in the service during the war.
Lieutenant John W. Enge, the commanding officer of the ill-fated LST 921 was given command of LST 78, which took part in the invasion of Okinawa along with LST 920. After the war, Enge returned to Alaska where he met his wife Carol and became a leader in the Alaska fishing industry. Enge died in 2010 at the age of 95.
Ensign Don Joost, who was severely wounded in the torpedoing of LST 921 was rescued by the British and taken to a hospital in Falmouth for treatment before being quickly transferred to another tank landing ship, LST
Ensign Don Joost
500 where he served for the rest of the war. Joost went on to serve in the post-war Navy and served on a submarine during the Korean War, before he returned to civilian life as an engineer with Shell Oil Company. Joost was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery during the attack on his ship. When I met him in 2004, he and his wife Bonnie were living quietly in retirement in Walnut Creek, California. Bonnie Joost died in 2014, several years after her husband’s passing.
 Don Reed, LST 920’s Communications Officer and the ship’s last commanding officer returned to California following the war, but never ventured far from his Navy experiences. When I met him in 2003 he was active in his church and serving as a docent aboard the USS Hornet, the World War aircraft carrier/museum ship in Alameda, California.  Reed stayed active in retirement but our communications tapered off and finally ended around 2011. I had brought my son, Michael, with me to meet Reed at that time. Our meeting with Reed provided a real personal connection for my son since his grandfather had died 12 years
Ensign Don Reed LST 920
before he was born.
Seaman Larry Biggio, who had contracted Yellow Jaundice in the Pacific worked diligently after the war to ensure his old ship’s place in history. Biggio established a web site dedicated to the memory of LST 920, which became a labor of love for him and the other shipmates who contributed photographs and articles in the effort to perpetuate the memory of LST 920. When he finally retired, Biggio turned his files over to me. Much of his research has been utilized in the writing of this book.
Engineering officer Jerry Gerard, the aspiring artist who had done the pencil sketch of my dad at Normandy, was transferred from the LST 920 following the ship’s return from Europe. After the war he put his artistic ambitions aside and embarked on a career as an engineer for a petroleum company. Retirement found Gerard back in his home town of Warsaw, Indiana, still active and enjoying a good golf game.  Gerard was still proud, in his eighties, that his old Navy uniform still fit him. He was touched that my dad kept his sketch among his souvenirs.
Motor Machinist’s Mate Joe La Rock returned to his home town near Pittsburgh, Same old story, La Rock wrote in his remembrance letter in 2006, Boy meets girl. We fell in love and were married on February 2, 1948 by my minister. According to La Rock, the minister was the same pastor who had baptized him as an infant. My minister in Pennsylvania had married my mom and dad, baptized me and then, married Minnie and me before he retired. We now have been married 58 years and have three wonderful and successful girls. La Rock began his post-war career earning 79 cents an hour as a laborer but eventually worked his way up in a federal agency and retired 34 years later as a deputy director.
Seaman Joe LaRock
Pennsylvania, and in 1947 married Minnie Wheaton, the Alabama farm girl who had been his pen pal all throughout his time in the Navy.
LST 921 Motor Machinist’s Mate John Abrams, who struggled with Seaman Lloyd Meeker to escape from the engine room, survived the war and went home to Renssalaer, NY. In his retirement, he took on the task of being his ship’s historian. Abrams provided a vivid first-hand account of his escape from his doomed ship.
Lloyd Meeker, who escaped from LST 921’s engine room along with John Abrams returned to Redmond, Oregon after the war. He shared his recollections of his Navy service in a long letter in 2008.
 Ensign Bob Naden, who replaced Jerry Gerard as engineering officer when the ship returned from Europe, came home from the Pacific and returned to civilian life. Naden went on to serve for many years in the state government of Iowa.
The first commander of the U 667, Heinrich-Andreas Schroeteler was transferred to another U boat before his ship’s encounter with Convoy EBC 72. He was captured by the Allies and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp until Germany’s surrender in 1945.
U 667 Captain Schroteler
Schroeteler died in Germany in 2000 at age 85. He had survived the war and lived to a ripe old age, unlike his successor, Karl-Heinze Lange.
The LST 920’s Navy career spanned the years 1944 to 1946 and then the ship joined the Mothball Fleet in Suisun Bay near San Francisco before it’s reincarnation in civilian service as part of a fleet of service vessels for a Brazilian Petroleum Company.
Wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who is considered the “father of the LST,” was turned out of office as the war ended in 1945. But made one more appearance on the world stage as Prime Minister in 1951 to 1955. Churchill died in 1965, leaving an indelible mark on history.  
The world that these men knew had changed forever.  Some veterans like Charlie Botula freely shared their experiences with friends and family. It was clear to those who knew my father, that his Navy service was a high point of his life.  Other returning veterans dealt with the horrors of war by shutting them out, putting their memories behind them and moving on. As the years passed, time began to thin the ranks of those who had served in World War Two.  Children and grandchildren wanted to know more about their parents and grandparents, uncles, brothers and I’ve not talked about this in 60 years!  one LST sailor told me, I just wanted to put it all behind, but I now realize that these are stories that need to be told. Charles Botula and his shipmates made history.  We must not lose sight of their deeds. As Winston Churchill so aptly put it:
British PM Winston Churchill
cousins and experiences during the War.  Many of these veterans began to fear that these stories might go untold and their shipmates might go unremembered. It is much to the credit of men like Don Reed, Larry Biggio, Don Joost, John Abrams, Lloyd Meeker, Fred Benck, Harold Dunagan, Joe Wallace, Jerry Gerard, Joe LaRock, Ray Willis and family members like Tim, Robert and Kelly Schultz, Tom Willcox, Robert Waters and John Ross who so generously shared their memories, photographs and documents that I have been able to tell this story. The LSTs 920 and 921 hold vivid memories for the men who served on them.
“The destinies of two great empires seem to be tied up in some god-damned things called LSTs.”

After LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! published, I got a letter from a reader who informed me that the un-named ship’s cook from the LST 921 was a long-time friend of his. Survivors John Abrams and Lloyd Meeker had both told me about their badly injured shipmate that they had helped rescue from the sinking of their ship, but they never identified him.  Only by chance did I learn that the ship’s cook, Charles Watson, a seaman from the state of Washington not only survived the war after losing a leg and suffering multiple leg and arm fractures, but it still heartily enjoying life at age 95. I talked to Charley Watson after I received Curt Pederson’s letter. And I’m happy to report that Charley Watson is still with us today, joining the rest of us in obvserving Veteran’s Day 2016 – 72 years after that U boat attack in the Dover Channel.   
[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site , and is linkedto FacebookTwitter and Google Plus!]
© By Mike Botula 2016