Vernon Wendorff, Petty Officer, 1st Class, United States Navy
Stories From The Vets Line
The World War II Veterans Committee was proud to sponsor the Veterans Hotline. Veterans could call a toll-free number and tell a three-minute World War II story. (This service is no longer available.)
I enlisted in 1942 and served my entire naval career aboard the USS Iowa (BB-61). My career really wasnâ€™t any different than any other sailor during World War II aboard a battleship. We served in many of the battles and many of the campaigns with the 5th Fleet and the 3rd Fleet, but my story about my experience was at the end of the war when we came into Tokyo Bay along with the Missouri for the signing of the surrender in early September of 1945.
Shortly after that surrender I was relieved of my duties aboard the battleship, I had been there just about three years, and I was a passenger, slated to go back to Washington, DC. The Iowa, right after the signing, was detached, and we went up to the northern islands of Japan, and there we were taking on board American and Allied POWâ€™s who had been enslaved in the coal mines in that part of Japan and had worked for many years as slave laborers. We werenâ€™t organized in the Navy, or anywhere else, at that time, to take on so many prisoners of war. We had no organization or plans of what to do. The war ended suddenly, and here we were taking these emancipated fellows on board to take care of them.
Since I was then a passenger, I took it upon myself to help one, who happened to be a Winnipeg Grenadier, who was captured in Hong Kong in 1939. Never knew his name, but I took him below and gave him some of my clothesâ€¦he was in rags. He didnâ€™t speak to me for two days. I took him to the showers; I took him to the barbershop. Got him clothed and looking decent and took him to chow lines. Finally found a bunk for him; we were very crowded at that time because people like myself who were due to go back to the states didnâ€™t have transportation that quick to go home. But I took care of him best I could and about the last day I was with him before forces unknown to me had organized to take these prisoners, especially Allied ones, off the Iowa and send them home. But this fella spoke to me. He finally told me that they never permitted him to talk all those years. He would be beaten or shot if he talked, and he found it difficult to talk to me. But he was so grateful to have somebody care for him and look after him. He gave me a folded up ten-yen note. I didnâ€™t want to take it from him, but he insisted that I take it. I carry it in my wallet to this day as a souvenir of a very brave man who withstood six years from his date of capture in Hong Kong to his release when he came aboard the Iowa. I never realized how good I had it in World War II aboard that ship until I met this man. Thatâ€™s the end of my story. God bless America.