Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Veterans History Project

Aldon D. Eckland, Petty Officer 2nd Class, U.S. Navy

 


In the summer of 1952, the Korean War was in-progress. Many of the young men and women in the Midwest were joining the various branches of the service. Aldon Eckland (Al) fancied the US Navy. He and his best buddy from school went to the recruiter at the same time and decided to sign up. They had both completed high school and their whole future was in front of them. Al had a job with the local meat processing plant. He worked in the maintenance section and did quite a bit with the boiler part of the heating system. His supervisor told him that if he went into the service, there would always be a job there for him when he got back.

The US Navy recruiter must have found that to be a lucky day! He completed the paperwork for the young men and sent them on to Denver for their induction physicals. He did tell them that if they passed the physicals, they would be going to the San Diego Naval Training that same day. That was what actually happened. Al had been on trains before, but nothing like this in duration and accompaniment. It was Denver to Los Angeles with few stops, then time for a change of trains for a southbound leg to San Diego.

When the Navy’s buses picked up the new recruits, they were taken to the place where they would undergo “boot camp”. Yes, new haircuts, new clothes, a new place to call home, and a different style of life, to say the least. Largely because he was from the Midwest, he knew about working hard, how to follow orders, and how to succeed. And in about nine weeks, it was time for graduation and movement to the next assignment which was in San Francisco.

While Al and many of his peers were training, the administrators and personnel officers were making decisions for manpower needs is they pertained to the conflict in Korea. In about three weeks, Al and others were to board a large troop carrier ship.

The ship was headed for Yokosuka, Japan, carrying about 1500 personnel. As the ship left port and sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, Al got a bit queasy, but soon recovered. The ship made stops at Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other ports, dropping off troops as the ship sailed on. Finally, at the destination, the rest of the personnel off-loaded and made their way to assigned units.

Within forty-eight hours, Al was assigned to the USS Passumpsic (A0107). The ship was called an “oiler” and was named after a river in Vermont. Her mission was to provide fuel for other ships at sea. Al and others were lined up in small groups. He was assigned a position in the boiler room. In very little time, it seemed, the ship was underway for Korea. Al was to get his training “on the job”. His work was to help keep the boiler working and the twin screws turning. The Passumpsic had a storage capacity of 146,000 barrels of fuel oil (42 US gallons per barrel). As it made its way toward Korea, it stopped several times to refuel aircraft carries, destroyers, destroyer escorts and some cruisers. When the Passumpsic pulled along-side another ship or refueling operations, Al had to move out of the engine room to the deck and help man the booms. In a way it was a mobile gas station, without the convenience store! The Passumpsic often filled 18 ships per day. When it ran low on stocks, they made way for Hong Kong or other ports to get reloaded.

Al worked here for a considerable time. There was always something to be done. The food was good, and living quarters were decent as well. There was a tragic loss of one of the sailor who was tossed overboard by ship movement. Although his body was recovered, the man passed. The Passumpsic was awarded nine battle stars for her service in Korea.

As the Passumpsic needed refurbishing, Al was offered a different job on a different ship, the USS Jason (ARH1). This vessel was a heavy hull repair ship. The work aboard this ship was to repair ships that had been damaged either in war operations or having struck objects under the surface of the water. This change for Al took place in early 1954. Al honed his welding skills here and did underwater work as needed. For bigger jobs, sometimes ships had to be lifted out of the water (drydock) so that bigger repairs to the hull could be made.

At one point, a large unit of US Marines was stranded in North Korea. All US ships in the area headed for an area north of the 38th parallel. Destroyers, hospital ships, and repair ships went to render aid. The USS Jason stayed out about a mile, while their smaller ships went in and got the Marines. The injured went to the hospital ships and others were brought on to the other ships. They were glad to get warmth, good food and some rest. The Marines were taken to Japan.

Al stayed in touch with his family by letters. They often arrived ten or fifteen at a time. The men were entertained by USO troupes and Al got a chance to see Eddie Fisher and Marty Robbins. Some of his shipmates formed a Country Western band and entertained the men. His pay was about $37.00 a month and most of it was sent home in allotment payments. Cigarettes were free and a fifth of good booze was about a dollar thirty-five – but could not be consumed aboard the ship.

While at sea on the USS Jason, a typhoon struck the area. The Jason was tossed about in the waves. One particularly big wave caused the ship to be partly turned on its side. In this action, Al was in the boiler room holding on when a iron rack broke loose and came at Al. It banged him against another object, breaking his pelvis area in five different locations. He would be taken to a hospital the next time they made port. Recovery was slow and really affected the way he walked. Things were painful, but the best cure was to keep moving –which he did. He stayed with the USS Jason when he recovered.

In 1956, Al was facing the choice of staying in the US Navy or going to civilian life. He decided to return to the Midwest with his family. He had a job waiting and returned to Scottsbluff. He got there on a Friday afternoon and resumed his job with Swift and Company on the following Monday. He worked for Swift for 26 years then worked more years at the Scottsbluff Region West Hospital.

ME-2 Al Eckland, Good job and thank you for your service!

 

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