Will Rozum was 21 when he joined the U.S. Navy in July 1942.
“I wanted to be aboard a battleship and to see the world,” said the Highland man.
He got his wish. Rozum, now 93, traveled more than 170,000 miles on water while he was aboard the battleship USS Alabama.
“I thought I would miss a lot of things if I got drafted by the Army,” he said. “I thought if I got drafted by the Army, I would have to live in a fox hole.”
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While aboard the Alabama, Rozum served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during World War II and helped the ship earn nine combined Battle Stars from 1943 to 1945.
The Alabama is also credited with shooting down 22 enemy aircraft, providing cover and bombardments for key invasions during the war, and for sounding the alarm to an entire task force that an enemy attack was nearing. The alert came at a critical point in the war and was due to the ship’s crew taking it upon themselves to install the newest radar while underway at sea.
Looking back, Rozum, who had earlier graduated from Edwardville High School, said he has no regrets with his decision to enlist.
“I loved every minute of it,” he said. “Sailing on a ship is a lot easier than walking.”
The only problem Rozum recalled experiencing while on the battleship was Typhoon Cobra in December 1944. The storm was so violent that three American destroyers were lost, killing 740 U.S. seamen.
The rough seas also caused the Alabama to roll in excess of 30 degrees.
“The maximum roll we could do was 32 degrees,” Rozum recalled. “So, we went about over.”
Rozum, along with the USS Alabama Crewmen’s Association, recently celebrated their 50th reunion commemorating their call of duty.
Although the USS Alabama Crewmen’s Association membership is waning, as its members’ age is at least 86 years old, it is still a robust group with about 170 members, Rozum said.
Rozum wore his sailor’s uniform for the latest reunion held earlier this year in Mobile, Ala., where his old ship is now a floating museum.
“I wanted to show what a real sailor looked like,” he said and grinned.
Rozum came on board the USS Alabama in December 1942. His job was in fire control, looking out for aircraft and directing fire for the 200 mm, 40 mm, and 5-inch guns. He also served as a communications yeomen, typing dispatches to send around the ship.
In August 1943, the Alabama left the North Atlantic and headed to Norfolk, Va., where she was overhauled, repaired and painted. After leaving Norfolk, the ship headed south along the coast and eventually through the Panama Canal while en route to its new mission, serving in the South Pacific as part of the Pacific Third Fleet. While in the South Pacific, the Alabama provided everything from fire support to antiaircraft support for fast carrier forces to shore bombardments during lands.
Rozum saw all of this and more while he was stationed on the very top of the ship. He said the Japanese controlled the Pacific for awhile.
“If they would have attacked the United States, I don’t how we would have ever been able to contain them,” he said.
Rozum said he learned a lot during his time on the Alabama. He cited the computers he used as an example. These computers could take the information on the aircraft and set up five different mounts to shoot.
“It was amazing we had something like that then,” he said.
About the USS ALABAMA
A member of the South Dakota Class of battleships, the Alabama was designed specifically for providing shore bombardment and anti-aircraft defense for aircraft carriers. The ship carried 129 guns, dominated by three large main turrets with armor 18 inches thick, each carrying three 16-inch guns that could propel a 2,700-pound projectile more than 20 miles with great accuracy. In addition, the ship also had 10 smaller side turrets that each carried two 5-inch guns.
It first served in the Atlantic theater of operations during the war but was better known for its role in helping to take Japanese-held islands in the Pacific from 1943 to 1945, earning numerous citations.
The Alabama earned Battle Stars for operations in the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Truk, Palau, Yap, Ulithi, and the Marianas, the Hollandia landings, and the invasion and capture of Saipan in June 1944.
The ship’s greatest moment came on June 19-20, 1944, as the Japanese launched an aerial attack against the Pacific Third Fleet as it steamed in the Philippine Sea, near the Marianas. Alabama’s SK-2 radar confirmed the approaching ships at 140 miles, in time to mobilize the American aircraft and ready ship defenses. In the ensuing battle, known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” for the lop-sided Allied victory, Japan lost nearly 500 aircraft and many experienced pilots, forcing them into desperation kamikaze suicide flights in the war’s latter stages.
In August 1944, the Alabama continued operations at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the capture and occupation of Guam, and additional attacks on Palau, Yap, and Ulithi in the Western Caroline Islands, followed by assaults against the Philippine Islands.
The Alabama saw heavy action at Okinawa, Luzon, and Surigao Strait, during the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf and specifically the Battle of Cape Engaño, during the liberation of the Philippines.
In December 1944, the Alabama encountered a fierce typhoon that sank three American destroyers and caused the ship to roll in excess of 30 degrees.
In 1945, offshore of Okinawa, the Alabama earned another Battle Star for adding protective firepower support for U.S. landing forces. Later, the Alabama was called upon to shell the home islands of Japan. Scoring heavy damage against Tokyo’s industrial regions, the ship earned another Battle Star.
Source: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park