The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
Energetically walking toward the Illinois Veterans' Home's Caf was Elden McClintock; the Henderson County Reads Chairmen had arranged to meet him to hear his experience in the North Platte Canteen during World War II. What we found was a gentleman of quick wit and writing ability-he had written his own story about his service in the Pacific and his lovely wife, affectionately called "Blondie."
He had been aboard a heavily bombarded baby aircraft carrier during the Battle of Leyte and survived. The adventure of this Hancock County farm boy growing up two miles north of West Point, Illinois, began in 1943. War was on and he knew he probably would be drafted so opted to take the army air corps test at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul. As a boy he had been warned about not looking at the end of your nose or else becoming cross-eyed for life so when examiners asked him to look at a pencil at the end of his nose, he couldn't do it. They said, "Go home and practice."
Back he went to West Point and graduated from high school and then he and his buddy, knowing the draft inevitable, hopped aboard a train with inductees to Chicago. In the processing facility, a man would be stamped with "army, navy, and marines" and then he had to choose the service branch. Both he and his buddy chose the navy. They were sent home for a couple of weeks and then Elden was sent to Farragut, Idaho for boot camp. Leaving out of Iowa by train, he experienced the North Platte canteen. Before they arrived, the word was passed through the cars that food and all kinds of stuff awaited them at North Platte. When the train lumbered to a stop, the guys jumped off-some going to the Canteen and some to a tavern across the street for a beer. Elden said that all kinds of food was lined up on a big long table and men were encouraged to take what they wanted. Most astounding was that no money was required; the town wanted to help the war effort and supported the canteen without tax funds to do it.
After boot camp, he came home before returning to Farragut and then onto California to join his ship, the U.S.S. Fanshaw Bay which had 900 enlisted personnel aboard. Off they went to "Pearl." When asked about the shape the harbor was in at that time, he said, "It was still torn up, but I didn't see it up close; there were lots of places for ships to dock. Everyone was still worried about imminent attack by the Japanese so security was tight."
At this time he had one brother who was serving with General George Patton in Europe and Elden was able to keep up with the progress of war in that theater by a newsletter distributed throughout the fleet. When talking about his brother, he told this story: the tanks were being hung up of hedge rows in Europe and became "sitting ducks" for German artillery.
His brother went to Patton and suggested that they put sharpened "V" blades on the front of tanks thereby making it possible to cut their way through the trees. It worked!
Asked about his brother's view of Patton, Elden said he had the upmost respect for the man-war is war-and sometimes drastic measures are needed to accomplish a goal.
Elden participated in really heavy fighting in the Battle of Leyte. A fleet of 992 ships of all countries ( British, Australian, etc.) were intercepted by a Japanese fleet featuring their best and biggest shogun style battleships, cruisers, etc. which could travel twice as fast as the Allied forces. Elden was the No.1 loader for a 40 millimeter twin mount gun located on the seaboard side by a smokestack. A man handed him the shells and he loaded the gun. Suicide planes were attacking continuously so they kept firing as rapidly as they could. The fleet lost two carriers (U.S.S. Gambier Bay and the U.S.S.Lo) and three destroyers in the battle which lasted two hours and 59 minutes. When every minute you might think you are meeting your Maker, you remember each one. ( The U.S.S. Fanshaw Bay was the only first line ship to receive two Presidential Unit Citations and one from the Philippine government.)
Bigger carriers with larger planes were further back; hence, pilots found that after they had delivered their bombs they had out flown any possible landing strips. It was dark and of course, the rule was no lights; however, "the Old Man (the captain)" knew the planes were in trouble. Someone had to order the lights turned on so this plane could land on their deck!
After years of research, Elden discovered that it came down to an enlisted sailor to actually turn on the lights and the plane was saved. Later, this plane had to be pushed over the side as the U.S.S. Fanshaw Bay's catapult had been hit and besides, the carrier deck had a short runway, not suited for such a large plane.
Another pilot made it to a nearby island and landed on a air strip dodging bombed pot holes. He commandeered a bulldozer and cleared strip for planes to land. The army had bombs, but refused to let planes load them.
This pilot solved the problem; he pulled out his gun, tied the in officer in charge to a tree and had the bombs loaded and returned to the war.
Later, he was court-martialed by the army who had to retract it and he was given a medal for bravery by the Navy. War is hell; one does what he has to do to get the job done.
After repairs where made in the States, the U.S.S. Fanshaw Bay was headed for Alaska to be issued foul weather gear for the invasion of Japan when the A-bomb was dropped. Instead invading, the U.S.S. Fanshaw Bay was the first air craft carrier to enter Tokyo Bay before the actual signing of the peace treaty on the U.S.S. Missouri.
When asked about what he saw in Japan, Elden said there was destruction everywhere, but what he saw was mainly from the B29's which had bombed before Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Elden girlfriend, later be known as "Blondie," worked at Caterpillar for awhile and then found a job at Western Union in San Francisco so she would be nearby when the U.S.S.Fanshaw Bay came to port.
They had been engaged and planned to marry after the war so when she heard that the ship would be docking in San Diego, she was there to welcome Elden home. They were married on June 2, 1946 in the Balboa Navy Chapel.
The ship was sent to Everett/Bremerton, Washington, for de-commissioning and Elden had enough points to be discharged.
He headed back to West Point, Illinois. His brother had been living on the home place and taking care of it so the couple began farming on his grandfather's land.
When asked if he thought that the Allies would win the war, he replied, "There never was any doubt in my mind that we would do so; we were determined to WIN!
"Oh, by the way," he said, " we sailors liked to listen to Tokyo Rose; she played all the American swing music and was the only radio program we could receive. Sure, she gave us a lingo about ships sinking or sweethearts deserting us, but that didn't bother me or most of the guys."
When asked about present day Iraq, he noted that his grandson had just returned from there. This soldier's view was we (U.S.) were doing a lot of good there, but the news just reports the bad stuff.
Elden's commitment to his country and to veterans did not end with his discharge. For years each morning he raised the flag at the West Point Cemetery and every evening took it down.
He was also instrumental in organizing a reunion for the veterans who sailed on the U.S.S. Fanshaw Bay who meet every two years. Sadly, each time the number dwindles. They truly are the "Greatest Generation."