Each year as Christmas approaches, Don Lougeay, of Belleville, can’t help but think back to his days in the U.S. Navy during World War II and three remarkable holidays he spent then.
He joined the Navy in 1943 when he was just 17 and went to Farragut, Idaho, for basic training. He graduated and came home for a leave. He said it was a three-and-a-half-day trip by train and he got 10 days of leave. Counting the ride back, he spent seven days of his time on a train.
When he got back to Idaho after his leave, he had just stepped off the train when he found out he was assigned to take a crash course in engineering at the University of Illinois. So it was right back on the rails for a ride through Chicago that took four days.
His next post was to San Diego, Calif., to an engine school about a week before Christmas.
“It’s Dec. 25,” he said. “I’m broke because my pay hasn’t caught up. I have the day off so I’m walking around when I pass the USO. I had never been in a USO before so I went in. They were announcing a Christmas dinner invitation for two sailors. As I was filling out the paperwork a voice behind me said, ‘I’d like to go, too.’ It was my brother, Bud.”
His brothers, Paul and Bud, were also in the Navy. Don had thought Bud was in Chicago at a Navy hospital so he was shocked. But the brothers went to dinner at a beautiful house overlooking the bay. They had a delicious meal and the man hosting them put a $20 bill under each plate as a Christmas gift. Don didn’t see Bud again until the war was over.
Fast forward a year and Don is stationed on Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, repairing landing craft. He hadn’t seen anyone from Belleville all the time he was on the island until Christmas day of 1944 when he was told to help a man on a picket boat that opened and closed the anti-submarine net for the island harbor.
The three other men on duty were all from Belleville. He remembers them as Fisher and Kniepkamp but can’t remember their first names. He can’t remember the third guy’s name at all.
“I’m 93. I’m lucky to even be here, never mind remember things. We didn’t use first names back then,” he said. “We spent eight hours playing cards.”
By the next Christmas the war was over and he was back in the United States. After a leave at home, he had to report to the federal building in St. Louis at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve.
“My orders said I was to be reassigned to the West Coast,” he said. “I sat there until about 1 p.m. Everyone else had gone but one officer. He asked for my orders. They had no place to send me so he put me in a cab to Lambert Field. There I was discharged at 3 p.m. With little money it took until eight in the evening and a bunch of bus changes to get home for Christmas Eve with the family.”
Wally Spiers: email@example.com