Aldon D. Eckland
Petty Officer 2nd Class
In the summer of 1952, the Korean War was in progress. Many young men and women in the Midwest were joining the various branches of the service.
Aldon Eckland--Al--fancied the U.S. Navy. He and his best buddy from school went to the recruiter at the same time and decided to sign up. They had both completed high school and Eckland held a job with the local meat processing plant, working in the maintenance section. His supervisor told him that if he went into the service, there would always be a job there for him when he got back.
The Navy recruiter completed the paperwork for the young men and sent them on to Denver for their induction physicals. He told them that if they passed the physicals, they would be going to the San Diego Naval Training that same day.
Eckland had been on trains before, but nothing like this in duration. It was Denver to Los Angeles with few stops, then time for a change of trains for a southbound leg to San Diego.
Because he was from farm and ranch country he knew about working hard, how to follow orders, and how to succeed. After nine weeks of this, it was time for graduation and transfer to the next assignment, which was in San Francisco.
While Eckland and many of his peers were training, the administrators and personnel officers were making decisions regarding manpower needs for the conflict in Korea. As a result, Eckland and others boarded a large troop carrier.
The ship was headed for Yokosuka, Japan, with about 1500 personnel. The ship made stops at Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other ports, dropping off troops. Finally, at the destination, the rest off-loaded and made their way to assigned units.
Within 48 hours, Eckland was assigned to the USS Passumpsic (A0107), an oiler named after a river in Vermont. Its mission was to provide fuel for other ships at sea. He was assigned a position in the boiler room. In very little time, it seemed, the ship was underway for Korea.
Eckland was to get his training on the job.
His work was to help keep the boiler working and the twin screws turning. The Passumpsic had a storage capacity of 146,000 barrels of fuel oil (42 US gallons per barrel). As it made its way toward Korea, it stopped several times to refuel aircraft carries, destroyers, destroyer escorts and some cruisers. When the Passumpsic pulled alongside another ship or refueling operations, Eckland had to move out of the engine room to the deck and help man the booms. The Passumpsic often filled 18 ships per day. When it ran low on stocks, they made way for Hong Kong or other ports to be reloaded.
Eckland worked here for a considerable time. There was always something to be done. The Passumpsic was awarded nine battle stars for her service in Korea.
Eventually the Passumpsic needed refurbishing. Eckland was ordered to a different job on a different ship, the USS Jason (ARH1). This vessel was a heavy hull repair ship.
This change took place in early 1954. Eckland honed his welding skills here and did underwater work as needed. For bigger jobs ships had to be lifted out of the water (drydock) so that bigger repairs to the hull could be made.
Eckland stayed in touch with his family through letters. They often arrived ten or 15 at a time. The men were entertained by USO troupes and Eckland got a chance to see Eddie Fisher and Marty Robbins. Some of his shipmates formed a Country Western band and entertained the men.
While at sea on the USS Jason, a typhoon struck the area. The Jason was tossed about in the waves. One particularly big wave caused the ship to be partly turned on its side. Eckland was in the boiler room holding on when an iron rack broke loose and banged him against another object, breaking his pelvic area in five different locations. He would be taken to a hospital the next time they made port. Recovery was slow and really affected the way he walked. Things were painful, but the best cure was to keep moving--which he did. He stayed with the USS Jason when he recovered.
In 1956, Eckland faced the choice of staying in the Navy or going to civilian life. He decided to return to the Midwest with his family. He had a job waiting and returned to Scottsbluff. He got there on a Friday afternoon and resumed his job with Swift and Company on the following Monday. He worked for Swift for 26 years then worked more years at the Scottsbluff Region West Hospital.
Eckland and his wife, Donna, now live at the Western Nebraska Veterans Home in Scottsbluff.