Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

March 22, 2012
Brothers in Arms

Patterson brothers recall the years they left their family behind to serve in the U.S. Navy during WWII 

Shortly after World War II ended, Milton Patterson’s mother was sitting on her couch reading in the newspaper a story about a veteran who was riding a horse across the country on his way home. She showed the story to her husband who looked at it and then turned to her and exclaimed, “Honey, that is our son.”

When the war ended and Patterson’s tour of duty ended, he rode a horse home to Sandy from San Diego, Calif. He was one of three Patterson brothers — the other two being Tom and George — who joined the United States Navy and served their country while being oceans apart in WWII.

George was the first to join the Navy in 1941. He made it home safely following the war and passed away a year ago. Milton, 84, and Tom, 86, now share a duplex at Canyon Cove Apartments in Tooele.

“George was 19 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor,” said Milton. “He joined the service right away.”

At that time the Pattersons were living in Salt Lake City. George went to boot camp at Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho and then was stationed aboard the USS Rudyerd Bay, an aircraft carrier that saw action in the Philippine Sea and the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Tom followed his brother’s lead, joining the Navy in 1943 at the age of 16. Tom went to Farragut for boot camp as well, but after volunteering for submarine duty, he was sent to the naval submarine base in New London, Conn.

“The training was hard,” said Tom. “There were 12 of us that initially were shipped out to the submarine school and I was the only one that made it through. Putting together a crew is hard.”

Tom was stationed aboard the USS Sea Devil. He said the close quarters of the submarine made life difficult at times.

“The submarine was not easy duty. It required a lot of tolerance,” said Tom. “When you go to bed at night with somebody else’s feet in your face that hasn’t had a shower in two weeks, it takes tolerance.”

In spite of the crew’s close quarters, they learned to get along and become lifelong friends.

“We got awful close as a crew and stayed that way,” said Tom. “I kept in touch with the crew over the years. Tom Ball, my friend, died last year. There aren’t too many of us left now. I was the baby and I am 86 now.”

Tom was a gunner’s mate, manning a 5-inch gun on deck during general quarters. As a gunner’s mate he was also responsible for the 10,000 feet of hydraulics on the ship. Tom went on six patrols aboard the Sea Devil, each lasting seven to eight weeks. The first patrol was in the Lingga Islands off the coast of Borneo and then, following the invasion of the Solomon Islands, the Sea Devil did interdiction duty in the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan, stopping Japanese merchant and navy ships while also retrieving downed aviators.

“Anything that floated with a meatball [the Japanese flag] was a target,” said Tom.

Tom recalls being the target of depth charges from Japanese ships.

“Our old skipper got tired of listening to depth charges and being tossed around,” said Tom. “So he would hover just below the surface at periscope depth so the Japanese would follow our wake. He would wait until he was behind the ships and then drop a few pickles [torpedoes] down their throat. Things got quiet and we didn’t hear any more depth charges after that.”

Tom’s last two patrols were spent off the coast of Japan. Tom, who was trained as a submarine commando, would go ashore to take out targets like radar stations and railroad tracks.

“Any time old Dugout Doug [General Douglas MacArthur] wanted something done Mr. [Admiral] Nimitz would say, ‘Send the navy, they can do it,’ which meant us,” said Tom.

Tom escaped the war unharmed, although his parents got a scare when the Sea Devil was reported missing in action.

“We were off the coast of Japan and we were attacked by a Japanese suicide plane,” said Tom. “We dove immediately and were 35 feet underwater when the plane hit.”

The plane took out all the superstructure on the deck, eliminating all radio controls and contact. It also limited the submarine’s speed to three knots, or about 3.5 miles per hour.

The submarine headed back to Pearl Harbor, but at three knots and with no communications, it was more than 30 days over due and the ship and crew were reported missing in action.

Milton, the youngest of the three brothers who went to war, joined the Navy in 1945 when he was 17 years old.

Milton went to San Diego for boot camp and also spent four months in training as a cook and baker. He was then stationed aboard the USS Passumpsic, a fleet replenishment oiler.

The Passumpsic would sail into Saudi Arabia and fill up and then head out to refuel the Pacific fleet, occasionally dropping into nearby islands.

“When you are riding around the ocean on top of 148,000 gallons of high octane aviation fuel you smell it all the time,” said Milton.

Milton recalls the time his ship was attacked by a Kamikaze pilot, or a Japanese suicide plane.

“I was up on the deck manning one of the 5-inch guns when it started diving right at us,” said Milton. “We jumped off the ship into the water.”

Milton said he and his fellow shipmates were picked up by other ships in the fleet and returned to the Passumpsic.

While the men who fought in the war made great sacrifices, many of them giving their lives, Milton said the sacrifice of their mothers cannot be forgotten.

“This is one thing that we need to give more attention to,” said Milton. “Here was our mother with 11 children at home. Even then life was not easy. It was the Depression and life was hard, real hard. After I was born my mother took me off breast milk so she could sell her milk to support the family. I started work at the age of 5 weeding gardens. Then when the war came and that dear mother of mine had to sit wondering where her three oldest boys were, she has two more sons that were coming of age to go to war if it had not ended. She paid the price, not us.”

It took three months for a letter to reach home, said Milton. The three brothers did not hear from each other while they were at war. Milton only learned that Tom had been reported missing in action when he returned home.

Because of their first hand experience with war, the two brothers are now promoters of peace.

“War isn’t a pretty thing,” said Tom. “I ceased to see any glory in it. The Japanese were pretty good people. To see them boys, ours or theirs, in the water was not anything I cared to see.”

“We joined with the idea that this whole thing was to end all wars so those that followed us could live in peace,” said Milton. “But we haven’t had peace since.”

Tom agreed with his brother.

“We need to learn how to talk,” said Tom. “Just put your guns away and make peace.”

Tim Gillie

Editor at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Tim has been writing for the Transcript Bulletin since October 2017. In February 2019 he was named as editor. In addition to being editor, Tim continues to write about Tooele County government, education, business, real estate, housing, politics and the state Legislature.A native of Washington state and a graduate of Central Washington University, Tim became a journalist after a 20 year career with the Boy Scouts of America.

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