WWII vet recalls Pacific Theater
John Sasman recently traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of an Old Glory Honor Flight. A day full of tours and memories left a deep impression on Sasman, who now encourages all Veterans to participate in an Honor Flight.
“My son Kevin had told me about the Honor Flight, and he had even lined it up for me to go a while back, but I wasn’t strong enough at the time,” said John. “He worked on lining it up for me again, and this time it worked out. Kevin was able to go with me as my guardian. I know he really enjoyed being able to be my guardian, and I think he looked forward to it more than I did at first; but, now that I’ve done it, I’m really glad I was able to go.
“Our flight left early Monday morning (May 7). We had a big plane loaded full of Veterans,” said John. “I got to go in first class, being that I can’t walk very well. The other people in first class were all on oxygen. We had a doctor and nurses on board to help take care of us.”
Once in Washington, John and the other Veterans toured the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and numerous World War II memorials, as well as the Vietnam Memorial.
“They really kept us going all day long,” said John. “We had three tour buses. We traveled all over Washington and saw so many great memorials. I was amazed at how big Arlington National Cemetery was-it’s over 600 acres, and there are some parts where it’s just rows and rows and rows of white headstones. I had been in Washington when I was in service and on leave, but I never realized how much history there is out there.
“I had two parts that were my favorites,” continued John. “The first was the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The second was the Iwo Jima Memorial.”
After a day packed full of tours, their plane returned to Wisconsin at about 9 p.m. The vivid, new memories they had just made helped bring back some old memories as well.
“I was in the Navy from January of 1943 to July of 1946,” recalled John. “I received diesel training and basic engineering in Virginia. Then, I went with the Sea Bees after the Philippine Islands had been taken back by Gen. MacArthur.
“We went to the island of Samar and set up, making roads to pass through the coconut groves. We also constructed a galley and officer quarters and then set up a diesel crane that reached out over the bay to unload merchant ships,” said John. “Our first duty was to open roadways through the coconut groves using a bulldozer.
“In the Philippines, the natives only wore loincloths. So, our skipper went to their village and gave all of them a Navy white t-shirt,” recalled John.
“I couldn’t stand the climate,” stated John. “We were there during the rainy season. We worked hard during the day and slept on cots out in the open at night, with our ponchos at our feet. We had sentries that circled the camp every night to protect us.
“It rained like crazy That was the weather, even during the day. When it was raining, the sand was as slippery as greased lightning; within 30 minutes of the rain stopping, the sand was blowing in your eyes. I asked my skipper if he could send me somewhere else where it wasn’t so hot and wet. He was able to get me on a Landing Class Supporter (LCS) #72. My duties on the LCS were to maintain the ship’s eight diesel engines and keep track of the fuel and water supplies,” John said.
“I was also on a LCS ship when Okinawa was invaded,” explained John. “Our duties on the LCS were to go in with a smoke generator and drop a smoke screen so the ships carrying troops and equipment could get to the beach without being fired upon.
“At Okinawa, our ship was the third one in. Two ships were taken out of the water ahead of us. I was on one gun and had a guy on the other side of me. We both tossed a silver dollar in the water and looked at each other as if to say ‘Well, this is it.’ Fortunately, we made it,” said John. “After Okinawa, we went to China to help clear mines out of the mouth of the Yangtze River. Later, I was part of a group that went up the Yangtze River to Peking after Japan surrendered. Our job was to disarm Japanese gunboats.
“After the Japanese surrendered, I was put on mine duty. We had a radar to pick up mines for the sweepers to cut loose and then we took them back and exploded them,” said John. “I did this at Iwo Jima, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima. When we were done, we returned to Shanghai, China.
“One of our last duties was to go to Korea and pick up some soldiers that were there and bring them back to Shanghai,” stated John. “We then prepared to come back to the United States.
“I was eligible for discharge, and I was on a ship going back to Portland, Oregon. I wasn’t on duty that particular day, and I told some of the other guys, ‘I’m going to be the first one back in the states!’ So I went to the very front of the ship, and I was the first person on that ship to make it back into U.S. waters.”
John said the Honor Flight was an incredible journey, and he recommends that other Veterans make the trip, if they haven’t already done so.
“It’s a really good thing to do. I sure enjoyed the trip, and it’s given me a new look on life,” John said. “I got to meet a little girl who had been writing me letters before I went on the trip. I also met a lot of fellows that were in service, and that, I tell you, brought back a lot of good memories-and a lot of bad ones too.”
“When we got back to the airport, it was packed with people welcoming us home. That gave me a feeling of how much people really appreciate what we Veterans have done. People really respect what we did for them,” John said with tears in his eyes. “If any Veteran is able to do this flight, I’d say make sure you take it. It’s a wonderful thing!”
For more information about the Old Glory Honor Flight, visit www.oldgloryhonorflight.org or contact Tony and Lorraine Van Kampen at 920-982-3117.