Around the world in his 88 years

Bremen native recalls Christmases past, military duty

South Bend Tribune
December 30, 2010
Tribune Correspondent

BREMEN John A. Graverson has lots of Christmas memories from his 88 years.

His early Decembers were spent on the family farm in Bremen, others in the Pacific in World War II and many more back home afterward.

One vivid holiday memory goes back to the Great Depression. It was the Christmas of 1934 when he was growing up on a farm with six siblings.

"We always had something to eat," he said, "but we were dirt poor."

He said the family couldn't afford even one present for the children.

"My dad and plenty of other fathers felt so bad about it all," John said.

He remembered going to downtown Bremen and getting a free orange for his only gift.

When he graduated from Bremen High School in 1941, he was working in the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant before he decided to join the Navy. He was sworn in on Nov. 24, 1942.

John had never traveled outside of Indiana when he was shipped to boot camp in Farragut, Idaho. His next stop was radio school in Honolulu.

"Not a bad duty," he said.

After finishing his training in radar and radio, he was assigned to a troop transport ship headed to Tarawa in the Pacific. They arrived three days after the island was secured. They set up stations there and in Tinian.

His next duty station was in Bremerton, Wash., where he was assigned to the USS Sangamon. The escort carrier participated in action all the way from North Africa to Okinawa.

It suffered its first serious damage when a Japanese kamikaze plane crashed on her flight deck on May 4, 1945, off Okinawa.

The enemy pilot had dropped his bomb just before crashing into the American ship, according to naval records. For five hours the crew fought flames, sometimes without communications or water pressure.

Firefighters were handicapped because the fire had made it impossible for those forward to reach men aft.

The ship suffered casualties of 12 dead, 13 missing and 18 wounded.

The Sangamon was ordered to return to Norfolk, Va., for repairs.

"We could only travel 8 knots per hour and the trip took a month," John recalled.

Upon arrival in Norfolk, he was transferred to the USS Honolulu.

John left Norfolk in January 1946 and soon after was honorably discharged.

He was home at last.

He and Millie Marburger were married and raised two children, Sheila G. Reed and John Robert Graverson. He has five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His wife died in June 2010 after 64 years together.

John worked at Bremen Foundry for 17 months before joining NIPSCO, where he stayed for 38 years, retiring in 1985, after 21 years as a supervisor.

John is a lifetime member of the Masonic Lodge, a Worthy Patron of the Eastern Star since 1961. He is also a member of the American Legion Post in Indianapolis and attends the First United Church of Christ.

Many Thanks to Ida Chipman for graciously allowing us to reproduce this article.

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