By Larry Nelson
Veterans History Preoject 

Thomas L. Kokjer

Machinists Mate 2nd ClassU.S. Navy 1945-1946


Thomas (Tom) Kokjer spent a lot of his early years working in the repair and sales offices of Kokjer Motors in Sidney, NE. He probably didn’t think that was so important when he was twelve years old, but it was. As he grew up, he learned to work on engines. He could take them apart, fixed them, and made them work again.

When he was in his mid-teens, he knew the Country was at war, and that the war was being waged on a couple of fronts. His father was a pilot in WWI. His older brother had served in the Navy. The fighting, marching, digging foxholes, living in tents, and eating out of cans that the Army offered weren’t very appealing to him. It was also clear that he was going to have to serve.

At age seventeen, he contacted a US Navy recruiter Cheyenne, WY. Before graduating from high school, he enlisted. He returned to Sidney for a few days and was soon notified that he was to report for duty.

He was presented his first train ride to the Great Lakes US Navy Training Center, near Chicago, IL. This was home for seven weeks. He survived the training but knew it was quite different from Sidney High School. His vocabulary increased significantly. He made lots of new friends who were in the same situation as he was. There were different races of people who came from different backgrounds. He graduated and was now a Seaman.

He returned to the Sidney area for a few days and was notified that his new place of duty was going to be at the Navy yards in San Francisco. Another train ride!

When Tom was at his new post, it was announced where he would go next. Tom wasn’t required to learn an additional skill for the Navy. He was already skilled in machines and engines. He learned that he was going to be assigned to the USS Appling (APA 58). This was a Gilliam-class attack transport. It was a significantly sized ship that had a crew of about 850 sailors plus the US Marines it carried. An attack transport is one which is big enough to conduct its own defense plus has several smaller watercrafts attached to it so it can deliver warriors to battle. He became a Machinist’s Mate for both the large vessel and the smaller ones it carried. The language for the smaller ships was LST or LSI (landing ship –tank, or landing craft infantry)

In August, she (the USS Appling) left San Francisco and went to Eniwetok, the Marianas, then to Guam where she picked up Marines of the 2nd Marine Division. The Marines had been slated to serve in the occupation forces at Japan. When approaching Japan, the USS Appling would essentially park in the harbor. The Landing Craft would be loaded with Marines then lowered to the sea and would head to land.

On 23 September, Appling arrived at Nagasaki in company with other units of TransRon 12. Tom got a chance to see first hand, the total destruction rendered by the atomic bomb. He has several photos depicting the utter ruination of the city. While there, the sailors were allowed to go ashore to see what they were could see. There was no preparation for the sailors. There was no warning about the radiation that could still be in the area. They saw very few local people wandering around.

Five days later, the ship sailed to the Philippines and carried troops from Subic Bay and Manila to Sasebo, Japan. Appling left Sasebo on 19 October and set a course back to the United States carrying homecoming veterans.

Tom’s job was to work on the engines of the bigger ship as well as any one of the smaller boats. With all the moving parts involved, he was busy. In his entire deployment, he was never land based. Tom determined that he had been on the ship for approximately 44,000 miles. He had his own bunk which was not far from the dining facility.

He kept in touch with home by letter writing. At one point an aunt sent him some fudge. Because of the heat in the Pacific area, the fudge melted. The guys still ate it up! He had no complaints about the food that was served.

While on the ship, showering was a little odd. The sailors were to wash themselves and remove the water by hand-wiping it off one’s body. This was a towel-free operation. By the time one left the shower area and returned to the living area, he was dry. Time was passed with some card games or reading.

Tom was also assigned a battle station. He was a loader for the 5-inch guns situated at the aft part of the ship. It the command of “battle stations” he would have to head for the lowest level of the ship. The ammunition for the guns was there. Tom and fellow sailors would obtain the long rounds and place them on the conveyors moving to the actual firing units. They didn’t have to engage in combat but trained regularly.

He witnessed a burial at sea. The most impressive thing he recalled about his deployment to the Pacific was just how huge the ocean was. The sailors were provided opportunities to see local places when the ship landed at the Philippines, Guam, Siapan, Okinawa, and Guadal Canal.

Tom developed health problems that required surgery. He was sent to Hawaii for surgery. By the time he was recuperated, wartime operations had really drawn down. He was informed that he could depart the Navy if he wanted to.

He was sent to St Louis, MO for clearing the Navy and soon was sent to Denver and ended back in Sidney, NE. In his Navy service, Tom was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Medal, the Japanese Occupation Medal, and the Victory Medal. He had a few unique pieces of memorabilia including a Japanese flag, coinage, etc.

Tom took advantage of the GI Bill. It funded college for him at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity. He obtained a degree in Business Administration and returned to Sidney to work in the auto business.

Good job, Machinists Mate 2nd Class Tom Kokjer, and thank you for your service!


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