The veteran’s corner – Erwin Hertz

“We almost lost our ship once in a fire. There was twenty of us on board who fought that fire, and the whole rest of the crew were way off, like a mile away, because we had so much gas and ammunition and bombs on board that they knew there’d be a terrible explosion. So we evacuated the ship.”

“And we had an old Chief who had been in Pearl Harbor who had fought fires, our damage control chief, and he cut a hole in the smokestack and put a firehouse down, he had a boiler fire we couldn’t get out and he said it’ll either blow up or go out.’ You know, a fifty-fifty chance. And it went out or I wouldn’t be here.”

The warm seas of the Mediterranean were a far cry from the landlocked upbringing of Montana farm boy Erwin Hertz. Born August 3, 1936 in Charlotte, Montana, Erwin joined the Navy the day after high school graduation. This immediate loss of farm labor had a less than desirable impact on his father, but to Erwin it was the beginning of a new life.

Taking his basic training in San Diego, he found himself stationed on the Alamita County, an old LST 32, later converted to an Advanced Air Base One whose home port was Naples, Italy. Erwin discovered that life aboard ship was a tradeoff in confinement. “Being on a ship was like a floating jailhouse to me,” he said. Observing that many enlistees simply served their time without improvement forced Irwin into a major decision. Wanting to better himself, he said, ” I figured I wasn’t going to sit around and play cards and drink coffee. I told myself when I went in that I wanted to come out of here with something.”

Training as an electrician imposed a heavy toll in the educational arena. For a young man who had barely skimmed through school, buckling down was perhaps the hardest thing he’d ever done. But the payoff made the effort worthwhile. In the first two years, he rated as high as he could go, so he invested the remainder of his time in correspondence to increase his knowledge in his chosen field. When he discharged in May of 1960, Erwin ranked as 2nd Class Electrician.

Although assigned to dull work routines, unskilled servicemen had more free time by comparison. “I missed a lot of liberty,” Erwin mused, ” Cause I was always working on something that was broke down, electrical wise.. But I didn’t mind it. I liked what I was doing.”

Navy life could sometimes have its ironies in the form of poor commanding officers. During one particularly fierce storm, with massive waves sweeping across the deck, Irwin and another man were required to tie down an immense M-Boat that had worked loose. “And we were up there and had to rope ourselves off so we wouldn’t get washed over the side,” he said,” and the captain of our ship sent somebody down to tell me I was out of uniform didn’t have my hat on.”

Continued next week…

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