Interviewing someone who was born in the year 1926 is interesting. Interviewing someone born in 1926 who fought in the Second World War is indescribable. That’s what happened when I spoke with Bill Conklin, a retired Navy Sailor who fought in the Pacific Theater in the mid 1940’s.
After the conclusion of World War One, America was regarded as a world power with a control on the world. A country thought to have been too strong to take down, let alone go to war with or against again. On December 7th, 1941 we were brutally attacked on a quiet Sunday morning by the Japanese Imperial Navy. “A date which will live in Infamy” said perfectly by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his famous speech. It was a slaughter and served as a benchmark of the beginning of the most powerful nations to engage in a brutal war.
At the time of Pearl Harbor, Conklin was returning from a tour of Grumman Aerospace on Long Island when his Grandfather had told him that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. His initial reaction was “I could only think about getting into the service somehow.” Over 16.1 Million American Men and Women served in World War 2, the largest
amount of troops in world history.
In 1944, Bill made a decision that he was too loyal to his country to watch this war continue and dropped out of High School to be on the front lines; a true Patriotic story. In asking Bill “Out of all the branches there were, why would you chose the Navy?” He said “I didn’t even really think about it, I grew up around the water and I just did it!”
Bill didn’t worry about what branch had the best reputation or where he might be sent, he just wanted to go to war to fight for his country. Bill enlisted right here on Long Island at a former government fund place known as the Crystal Palace. From there Bill pinballed across the state until finally he had completed his Basic Training at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.
Along the way, he was travelling from Illinois back to North Carolina while F.D.R was passing by in his convertible, and Bill had to stand still saluting him for roughly 15 minutes! “He was just driving so slow”, Bill said.
After staying in the U.S for roughly one year Bill was sent to Parris Island for about a week and was then sent off to the Philippines in June of ‘45. He was stationed in Leyte Harbor and that's where he would remain for two months until the United States would drop the Atomic Bomb.
In questioning Bill if he knew about the dropping of the atomic bomb, he said “We didn’t know about it until two days later, all we knew was that it was a big thing.”
After the second bomb was dropped, Bill knew that something serious was going on in Japan and 3 days later the Japanese surrendered. I was curious to know about the reaction of the young soldiers to the end of fighting, “The whole harbor lit up with everything, bombs, flares and everything that was loud! Pure excitement! We were sneaking beer and just drinking anything we could get our hands on” Bill said.
For Conklin, though the war was over he still remained in the Pacific. He was brought down to New Guinea where he was helping close down the base. Bill said “We were putting the Japanese POW’s to work, to help with everything. After leaving the Island of New Guinea, we went back to the United States and it took about 2 weeks for me to get my transport back to Long Island.” I asked what Bill did right after hugging his family and he said “I ran to the refrigerator and drank a carton of milk! All we had was powdered, not the real stuff!”
From there Bill stayed on Long Island and got a job working at a chemical company. After a couple of years he would meet his wife and have 3 kids. Today Bill still lives in Long Island, 91 years young but still remembers everything from his heroic experience.