HUDSON — “When I was 14, I remember going to the library and looking at books about World War I,” George Jamison told a recent visitor, recalling the horrific photos on the pages. “I thought, I’m never going to go to war.”
Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, changed his mind. Problem was, Jamison was only 16 — two years too young to join the service. Two years later the war was still raging, and he joined the Navy.
Trained as a diesel mechanic, Jamison was assigned to the U.S.S. Manlove, an Evarts-class destroyer escort. The ship was named for warrant officer electrician Arthur Cleon Manlove, who was killed aboard the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attack. When Jamison arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard, in Vallejo, California, the ship was still being built. When it launched in July 1943, Jamison’s station was in the engine room, deep in the bowels of the ship. He would soon arrive in Pearl Harbor, where he found the destruction of two years ago still fresh and the tragedy of the attack palpable.
“It (the harbor) was that deep in oil,” he said, holding his palm four feet off the floor of the Hudson-area home he built himself. Engineers had opened an additional pass to allow the oil to flow out to sea, but it was a slow process, the 94-year-old former sailor added.
The Manlove had a shallow draft, making a capable and maneuverable escort, and Jamison and his crew ran several training missions from Pearl Harbor before voyaging to Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands. It was his first extended time at sea. He recalled “hitting the sack” as they neared the Marshals, a chain of volcanic islands and atolls in the Central Pacific, waking in the morning to a stunning site.
“I got up and there must have been 2,000 ships there,” Jamison said all U.S. vessels. “I couldn’t believe it.”
It was the first of many firsts for the teenage sailor. After returning to Pearl Harbor for about a month, it was back to the Marshalls by the end of Feb. 1944. This time the Manlove ran antisubmarine patrols and hunter-killer missions around the islands. Thanks to the cracking of the Imperial Japanese Navy codes and ciphers, on March 24 the Manlove located a Japanese sub attempting to resupply an enemy garrison at Wotje, one of the atolls in the Marshalls. In a coordinated attack with companion ship PC-1135, the sub was sunk.
The Manlove continued running escort mission in the region, protecting oil tankers and other ships around Guam and the Mariana Islands. One mission was to escort the tankers that were the only source of fresh water. Retreating Japanese forces poisoned wells on the islands before abandoning them. He didn’t get much deck time due to his engine room duties.
“I was pretty isolated in the engine room,” Jamison said, recalling being in the cramped compartment for most of six weeks when running missions around Guam.
Asked if he felt vulnerable so deep in the ship, he said he didn’t think about it much until one of the crew reunions he hosted years later at his Hudson home. A former captain of the ship attending the gathering called the Manlove a “tin can,” Jamison said.
“He said if we’d been hit by a torpedo, it would have been all over of us.”
The Manlove would later become part of the invasion fleet in the Okinawa campaign, but by then Jamison had been assigned to a civilian ship attached to the Navy. He sailed on her through the Panama Canal directly into a hurricane in the Pacific. He recalls it was no fun. Even without the pounding of the storm, Pacific passages were tough.
“That Pacific Ocean is long and wide,” Jamison said.
Jamison left the service when the war ended and went to work for a construction firm, later starting his own building business. His last Manlove reunion at his home was around 1985, he said, when just one crew member showed up.
“There’s not many of us left now,” he said.
These days he has old pictures, memories, and despite the dangerous and hardships during war years, he laughs a lot about those days.
His best buddy was Mike Barsa, who left the service before Jamison.
“He asked me how much money I had,” Jamison recalled. “I told him $700 and asked how much he needed.
“He said ‘all of it.’ ”
Jamison forked it over. Months later got an unmarked envelope in the mail with $700 cash in it. Adjusted for inflation, that $700 would equal more than $9,000 today.
He chuckles when he thinks of one ship captain who had a carpenter on his crew build him a small wooden sailing boat on one of the Pacific islands. The captain took the little boat out but wasn’t nearly the sailor he thought he was.
“He couldn’t turn in around to come back,” Jamison said. “They had to send a whale boat out to bring him back.”
As for the war itself, Jamison thinks the war with Japan possibly could have been avoided with diplomacy, but given the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. had no choice.
“We had to retaliate,” he said, adding that he has no ill feelings toward Japan.
Of the many reunions between former Japanese and U.S. troops after the war, Jamison said they were important events for many who needed to make peace with themselves and the enemy.
“You can’t hate forever,” he said.