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Our War: Sailor rode storm out in Okinawa

Neil Scheibel in camp during World War II.
Neil Scheibel in camp during World War II.

Neil Scheibel got to Okinawa just before the end of World War II and just in time for a typhoon.

Scheibel was an aviation electrician in the U.S. Navy, part of Combat Aircraft Service Unit, Fighter, 3. He arrived on July 4, 1945, the Japanese surrendered on Aug. 15 and Typhoon Louise hit on Oct. 9.

"There was an ammo dump built into the hillside near the beach. We were packed in there. All we did was sat and talked about it being over," said Scheibel, who said there was little light in the bunker. "There was lots of rain, and it was so windy, our flag pole was bent to the ground."

Their tents were gone. The quonset hut that housed their shop was gone. The Patrol Bomber, Martin airplanes they fixed--called PBMs--were turned over and scattered. Out in the Okinawa bay, 12 ships were sunk, 222 were grounded.

And there were about 100 U.S. Navy personnel hurt and 36 killed.

Scheibel was drafted in July 1943, was in training for the next year and then was assigned to the combat service unit in October 1944 at Naval Air Station San Diego. They left for Okinawa in May 1945.

Their troop ship took 50 days to make the journey, breaking down twice.

"When we broke down, we were out there all by ourselves. We were sitting ducks," he said.

They were towed in to Pearl Harbor for repairs the first time and limped to Eniwetok the second time.

Once in Okinawa, it was life in a tent until they got quonset huts up and more permanent facilities. They even had an outdoor movie amphitheater.

"Most every night when the movie was about to start, there'd be a raid, and they'd have to keep the screen dark. At first we'd jump into a foxhole. Then it got to be old stuff and we'd just sit there -- the Japs were headed for a different part of the island," Scheibel said.

On VJ Day, the unit celebrated in the usual way. They drank so many cans of beer they were able to spell out the unit name and the event with empties.

The end of the war also gave them some Sundays free to take a Jeep and see the tropical island. They posed next to a B-29 and visited a Marine cemetery.

"So many crosses, and I don't know if that was the only cemetery," he said.

The war gave Scheibel a trade. He worked for Century Electric and then Southwestern Bell for 38 years, retiring when AT&T broke up.

He married the girl he met at the Catholic Youth Organization meetings at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Belleville. Georgette Roth came to the area from Arkansas, seeking work in St. Louis. She stayed with her aunt after her uncle, Irvin Fries, was killed in the war.

Georgette and Neil Scheibel married after the war, had two boys and two girls. They still live in Belleville. Neil is now 82.

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