'Where the fleet goes, we've already been'

By SUSAN AMUNDSON,

Edward L. Lowe at 16 decided he needed to enlist in the Navy to take the place of some “draft dodger” who wouldn’t. The Foxworth resident along with three of his buddies, Doby McDaniel, Junior Burkes and Charles Lowe, all volunteered for the service in December 1944.

Basic training was in Great Lakes, Ill. From there he was sent to Norman Naval Station in Oklahoma. Next was a disembarkation port in the California mountains to Oakland where he set sail to Pearl Harbor and from there to the island of Formosa, which is now called Taiwan. He was assigned to a converted mine layer, and it was the flagship for Commander Task Force 52.3. The group was over a particular group of mine sweepers. Their assignment was to edge closer and closer to Japan.

His job was a radio voice talker. What he would do is receive messages from other ships and pass it to the commander or from the commander to the ships. There were several of them because of all the minesweepers in the group could report to the commander and vice versa. The messages would be typed up and delivered to the appropriate staff officers to sign off and take whatever action was needed.

As the war ended, they moved to Sasebo Harbor on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. It was like an old graveyard of aircraft carriers, which had been damaged and could not be used anymore. It was also the headquarters for the kamikazes. Kamikazes were Japanese fighter pilots who would intentionally crash into U.S. ships to damage and destroy them.

The Japanese commander surrendered to the Commander of Task Force 52.3. At the surrender, the Japanese commander turned over his samurai sword to the American commander. The commander had it mounted up in his office.

“Any time we went to the see the commander, we got to see that sword hanging,” Lowe said. 

In late December a group of them moved to different jobs on different ships because a lot of the older servicemen had earned their points. At that time points were earned by the length of time served, where served and special distinguishes received, such as medals.

Lowe was assigned to YMS 468 minesweeper. A minesweeper worked by having a float, also called a pig, in front of the minesweeper. The float would have a line attached to a depressor on the vessel and would cut loose the mines, causing the mines to float to the surface. Sailors would then shoot the mines to detonate them to clear the water to make way for the ships to safely make it to land for battle.

He said they had a motto, “Where the fleet goes, we’ve already been.”

His assignment on the YMS was a motor machinist mate/striker in the engine room.

He said it was 139 feet long and 32 feet wide and had a crew of 37. Not only did they continue to sweep mines in Sasebo Harbor but also along the coasts of Korea, the Yellow Sea, China Sea and Sea of Japan.

In mid-January of 1946, a group of seven ships formed a convoy to head back to the United States.

“We more or less island hopped back because we did not have enough fuel to go far without refueling and taking on fresh water,” he said.

He received a card marking when he passed the International Date Line on March 28, 1946, on their way to California. Lowe said they were due to go to Johnston Island in Hawaii to refuel before they would get to Pearl Harbor. On April 1, Alaska suffered from two or three earthquakes, which resulted in a tidal wave that prevented them from docking. The minesweeper had to be refueled at sea.

Lowe was on duty when the ship was refueling. He said the refueling ship was 220 feet long compared to their 139 feet. The rough waters made it difficult to refuel and eventually it was decided there was enough to make it to Pearl Harbor.

“As the outer waves hit the ship that night, no one could sleep. Everybody was saying good prayers to the Good Lord to let us make it,” he said.

The engine was needing repairs so at first they were going to go to Seattle but ended up going to San Francisco. The ship went under the Golden Gate Bridge and passed the famed Alcatraz prison. When the ship got close to Alcatraz, the sailors thought they heard shooting. A few minutes later a patrol ship passed by with what Lowe said looked like a bunch of Marines on it with their firearms ready. They later found out that a jailbreak attempt was in progress.

After being in San Francisco for about a month, the ship set sail this time with plans to go through the Panama Canal to Charleston, S.C. They stopped at the Balboa Naval Base on the west side of the canal and he received a message from Junior Burkes, who had joined the Navy with him. Burkes was on the submarine base and he invited Lowe to come see him. Once the ship had gone through the canal it stopped at the Coco-Solo base on the east side of the canal, and he was able to spend the fourth of July with his buddy in Panama City.

With Lowe being on the flagship he didn’t get close to the action or having to worry with the kamikazes. However, he admitted it was scary.

“You never knew when a sub might appear,” he said.

Once he made it to Charleston, he took the train to the New Orleans Naval Base. As his time was coming to an end, the Navy tried to get him to reenlist, but he only signed up for the reserves for an additional 18 months.

Following the war he and about 14 other men all took advantage of the GI Bill and went to diesel mechanics school in Memphis, Tenn. The military would pay them $65 a month. He said each of them found part-time jobs so they could have extra money. He worked in a Kroger’s bakery. Sometimes the ladies in the bakery would make an extra cake for them and a couple guys worked at a drug store and brought home ice cream so they enjoyed cake and ice cream a lot.

He worked several jobs through the years, including serving as a mechanic for the Mississippi Road Supply Company, then he worked on tugboats.

He was contacted to go to Korea but because he was on a tugboat, which transported fuel to the base in Pensacola, the military decided to leave him where he was.

However, once he was on the Ohio River and it snowed. He decided right there, the job wasn’t for him.

He moved on to the oilfields, working on land rigs throughout Southern Louisiana and South Mississippi. The company wanted to move him offshore, but he was not for that and left the oilfield business.

He finally settled in at the shipyards in Pascagoula where he worked for 27 years before retiring. Along the way he got married and divorced after 21 years. The marriage brought him two children, a son and a daughter.

With retirement came boredom so he went back to work at the shipyard doing security part-time, which quickly turned to full-time. This time his service and college time was added to his employment years, and he retired after 15 years.

He moved to Marion County in 2013 where at 92, he now enjoys his chickens and recliner.

A grandfather to three and great-grandfather to five, he looks back at his time in the war.

“It had to be fought. Countries in Europe were going for world domination and then Japan wanted in on it, too,” he said. “If you don’t get involved, sometimes you end up worse off.” 

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