Seventy-six years ago, the United States made the decision to enter World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
For the next four years, the war was fought on two fronts, Europe and Asia, with the Allied Powers proving victorious in 1945.
Two regional WWII veterans, recommended by a local veteran’s organization, offered their stories.
Harrison County native Paul McCue fought on the Pacific front for three years, enlisting at the age of 16 with his parents’ permission.
“I always liked adventure. When war broke out, I wanted the Merchant Marines, but they wouldn’t take me because of my age so I joined the Navy,” McCue recalled.
In addition to boot camp, McCue also was put into amphibious forces training, a precursor to the Navy Seals.
“It was the first time they were used in war,” he said.
The latter part of the war, McCue was stationed aboard the LST 719, which was a landing ship that held roughly 200 enlisted men.
McCue remembers the crewmen switching jobs, “So everyone was trained in everything.”
One of his jobs was putting the rescue boats in the water in the event of an abandon ship order.
“I would have been the last one on the ship, but I never had to do it in case of an emergency.”
McCue also get to steer the ship while at sea. He said an officer and navigator would give instructions on where and when to turn the vessel.
“You got to learn to do it slow [when turning],” he said.
McCue recounted the time they were in the harbor of Manila. There was heavy fighting, and he had to stand special watch.
“I walked the deck with a Thompson machine gun,” he said.
The Thompson machine gun is part of the emblem of the Naval Amphibious Force patch.
When the war ended, McCue at first recalled hearing a false alarm, but then the actual call that it was over came in.
“We were preparing for another invasion when the true work came that the war was over,” he said.
McCue earned commendations from the Philippines, including the Philippine Liberation Medal and the Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation Badge.
After the war, McCue returned to Clarksburg and worked several different jobs, the first at Pittsburgh Plate and Glass (PPG) for 26 years. He also served as a constable in Harrison County. Through his work as a constable, he received an appreciation letter from the City of Philippi.
When not working, McCue still clung to his adventurous side. He and his son took a motorcycle trip to Mexico, wrecked, and his son ended up with a broken arm. They spent 10 days in Monterey waiting for the motorcycle to be fixed, then made within 50 miles of the border when they broke down again. They finally made it back to the states. McCue went on to own two more motorcycles, which he took to Canada and New England.
McCue still lives in Clarksburg with his dog. His son lives in Maryland.
John Kanouff, of Bridgeport, formerly Braxton County, served in the United States Navy aboard transport ships for three and half years during the war. Kanouff served out of Brooklyn in New York City where he often ate with Eleanor Roosevelt who affectionately referred to the soldiers and sailors as “my boys.”
Once you talked to her for five minutes you couldn’t help but love her,” Kanouff said of Roosevelt.
Kanouff also related a story where landing in the brig, another name for prison, saved his life. He was granted weekend leave to visit his sick sister, and he was told to be back by 8 a.m., on Monday when he was due to leave on a supply run to England. Kanouff was thrown in the brig after arriving “five or ten minutes,” late. His ship left without him and was torpedoed and sunk by a Nazi submarine,with no survivors.
“The man upstairs was looking out for me,” Kanouff said while reflecting on the incident.
Later in the war, Kanouff was aboard the Cape Canso, a transport vessel, as it ferried 1,500 troops to New Guinea. Kanouff detailed an initiation ceremony he took part in as he crossed the equator for the first time, a common practice in navies around the world.
Kanouff said he was blindfolded and made to “walk the gangplank.” As he was doing so he heard a sailor behind him say “Oops” before bumping into Kanouff who then felt himself hit the water. He recalled the taste of the salt water in his mouth as he imagined a shark opening its mouth to bite him and he began to panic, but upon tearing off the blindfold he realized that his shipmates had filled a tarp full of ocean water in an elaborate prank.
The Cape Canso dropped off 1,500 soldiers in Milne Bay on the western tip of what is now Paupa, New Guinea amid heavy fighting, before going out to sea and dropping anchor for four days. They then returned to the bay to collect 500 wounded for transport to a hospital.
Kanouff spent most of the rest of the war manning a .50 caliber machine gun on while shuttling supplies, munitions, and troops from Australia to New Guinea, until he was injured by a “skip bomb,” attack from the Japanese plane.
“All I remember was a flash,” Kanouff said of the incident.
He later recalled waking up and being aware but unable to move as he heard one of his fellow sailors say, “I think this son of a [expletive removed] is dead,” as he carried him to his bunk. Kanouff remembered telling that sailor later, “I heard what you said about me.” to which his crewmate replied, “Well, I thought you were.”
Kanouff recalled a feeling of relief upon hearing of the surrender of the Empire of Japan while in Melbourne, Australia. Kanouff returned home to Bridgeport where he attended West Virginia University studying agriculture for three and a half years before working on a dairy farm.
While in Melborne, Austrailia, Kanouff met Thelma Meal, and the two had hoped to marry after the war. However, Kanouff never made it back to Melbourne, and Meal was told that Kanouff’s ship and all aboard had been lost.
Kanouff and Meal tried in vain for five years to contact one another before they both gave up and married someone else. Both of their marriages resulted in seven children, and both eventually ended in divorce.
Much to his surprise, Kanouff was contacted in 2002, by Wayne Patrick, who informed Kanouff that he was his grandfather. Patrick had used the internet to find Kanouff, and in October, 2002, Meal, her son Gilbert, and Patrick landed in Pittsburgh for a visit.
Meal and Kanouff discussed their efforts to find each other. The pair then kept in contact, and after many long conversations decided to marry. They now live in Bridgeport.