The price of glory
November 11, 2014
No other time recent history, has our county came together for a common cause, as we did for World War II. It wasn't done for fame and recognition, but because it believed to be the right thing to do.
Each of the total 16 million Americans who served has an incredible tale to tell. The stories of our veterans are a very important part of our history and our nation. Many World War II soldiers came home to farm and ranch, and feed our nation.
Jack Rafferty of Hettinger, N.D. is one of those.
Rafferty was working at a sawmill, in Redmond, Oregon, when he was drafted into the war at the age of 22. "I had a job that I could have turned down my draft notice, but I could have not gone into the war. I chose to serve my country," said Rafferty. He chose the Navy, "because I knew I would have a bed and something to eat."
He served on the USS Ross (DD-563), a Fletcher class destroyer as a fire control man. "That doesn't mean I fought fires on the ship. It means I manned several different guns for the ship," he said.
The USS Ross was attached to a carrier ship and protected the heavier ships as they bombarded landing beaches, intercepting enemy boat traffic, provided fire support for underwater demolition teams and participated in anti-submarine and anti- aircraft warfare. The Ross is the only ship in Naval history to survive two underwater mine explosions.
After participating in the capture of Saipan, Peleliu and providing cover for the landings on Dinagat and Homonhon Island, the USS Ross was dispatched to join minesweeping operations. In the wee hours of the morning, on Oct. 19, 1944, the ship struck a mine laid out by the Japanese off Dinagat Island that damaged the ship's engine room. Still in the minefield and unable to maneuver, the helpless ship then drifted into a second mine.
"The mines were hard to see at night and they were floating everywhere," said Rafferty.
Through the crew's quick action and hard work they saved the ship from sinking. With three men dead, 20 missing and nine seriously injured, the medical officer and the seriously wounded were transferred to the USS Chickasaw and the crew with the help of a salvage team from the USS Preserver began making repairs to the Ross.
The USS Chickasaw towed the sinking ship where it was anchored off Homonhon Island but the crew's experience was not over. The ship was now a sitting duck and Japanese aircraft dropped two bombs near the Ross, injuring two more men and causing more damage to the ship. The Ross was then towed to Mariquitdaquit Island and during transport they were once again attacked by aircraft with a bomb hitting the USS Preserver. The men on the Ross's crew still put up a fight, driving off the attackers.
There was nothing that could diminish the fortitude of the men on this destroyer. Despite 286 air raids including a Kamikaze fighter that crashed into the ship and a typhoon, salvage work was completed. "In six weeks we had it back in shape. We proved that the destroyers were not expendable tin cans," said Rafferty.
With the Ross once again battle ready, the ship was placed on air-sea duty as occupation troops were moved by air from Okinawa to Tokyo. "We were just off the coast of Japan when the bombs were dropped. Once we got to Tokyo we were allowed to take liberty and other than the Parliament building the streets of Tokyo were all rubble," he said.
Now in his 90's, Rafferty humbly underplays his accomplishment, saying that he was simply doing his duty.
"We knew what we were fighting for, nowadays I don't think anybody knows what they are fighting for," he said.
Returning from the war Rafferty and his wife Lorraine, raised three boys and farmed and ranched for 67 years in Havelock, N.D. "We raised Hereford – Angus cross cattle and wheat and had milk cows and chickens," he said.
"I was raised old-school. Today everything has changed in agriculture. Growing up we didn't have tractors, everything was done with teams of horses and a two-row planter. The first tractors we did have didn't have cabs or air conditioning or computers. Now places are so big, back then we thought six and a quarter was a good sized place and now they farm thousands of acres and get higher yields because of better seed varieties, fertilizers and better weed control," said Rafferty.
Now living in an assisted living facility with his wife, he says, " I miss the farm and enjoyed the work."