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Community Mourns Passing of Beloved Local Veteran

Edward J. Killham, US NAVY, Seaman 1st Class, Gunner's Mate

Barbara Perez, Publisher, Sun-Telegraph

Edward J. Killham, 97, of Kimball, died at Kimball Health Services on Thursday, February 9, 2023. The Sun-Telegraph has chosen to honor Mr. Killham by re-printing the original article in its entirety, as it ran in our paper in 2020, writen by Larry Nelson of the Veterans History Project.

Mr. Killham's obituary can be found on page 8A.

Edward (Ed) Killham was a senior in high school and had earned almost all the credits required to graduate. He had learned about an aviation school he could attend that paid $100 a month. The school was in Denver, CO. After a few months of training in Denver, some of the students, including Ed, were sent to an Army-Air Forces base (Hill AFB) near Ogden, Utah. Continuing his training, Ed worked there until about June 1943. He had learned something about airplanes, was housed, fed and had a decent life on the base. When time came, though, he returned to Potter, NE. He waited for his cousin to finish some things up then the two went to Denver and enlisted in the US Navy.

At the in-processing station, the two were given a choice of jobs they could have after training. Ed wanted to be an aviation machinist's mate. His cousin was unsure what he wanted. The cousin was to become the aviation machinist's mate while Ed was enrolled to be on the Armed Guard. First though, they went to boot camp at Farragut, Idaho.

Travel to northern Idaho was by train. The adventure had begun now. Ed hadn't been on a train before. There had been a wreck of some sort near Billings, Montana. The passengers had to stay in that city while things were cleaned up, then they re-boarded and were on their way. The train dropped the men off at Spokane, WA where they were then transported to Camp Farragut, Idaho.

At boot camp, the new sailors had to learn some new terms, get good haircuts, be issued new clothing (with their names stenciled on the correct places), find the galley (chow hall), and learn where they were going to be living for the next few months. Ed recalled that the food was good. He weighed 160 pounds going in and by the end of boot camp, was on the scales at 195! He also went from 5'7" to 6'2". The significant growth not only meant that he ate well, but needed a full re-issue of clothes.

There were about 350 young men who started with Ed. All made it through boot camp. A looming question among the "boots" was "where is the ocean?". At Camp Farragut, there was a sizable lake – and a deep one at that. They were told that for their situation, this would be enough lake. Ed had little difficulty with the initial training piece.

A new word in his vocabulary was "orders." Upon graduating boot camp, Ed was on orders to go to San Diego, CA for gunnery school. Yes, back on the train and headed south.

As the train made it's way through several states, it stopped a short distance from Los Angeles. As the men looked out the windows, they saw their first orange orchards. Ed and two others climbed out a train window, jumped the fence and picked some oranges! They were stuffing the food inside their shirts when, suddenly, the train started moving! "We ran like hell to catch up with the train". Other guys were leaning out the window to pull them in but they couldn't get through because of the number of oranges in their shirts! They had to reach down and remove oranges then slide through the openings.

The train stopped in Lon Angeles near a public park. The word on the train was that civilian men who were hanging out in the park were, in today's terminology, gay. In that most of the Navy men had never been around people like that, they wanted to see. Several sailors went into the park and asked a group of men where they could find men like they were described. The group of men must have had strange looks on their faces. The sailors moved on back to the train... next stop San Diego.

Ed was sent to the Destroyer base in the Navy base there. Here he learned about Gunnery. One of the new subjects was aircraft identification. There were slides of black and white silhouettes of top, bottom front and rear of planes from all allied countries and enemy planes as well. At first, the class trainers showed the slides slowly... then a little faster... faster... then flash speed. The trainees were expected to know both enemy and friendly aircraft at first glance. Every so often, the slides included a "blond in a bathing suit". Everyone knew that image.

Other training included disassembly and assembly of the anti-aircraft guns they were working with. They had to know it well enough so that they could work blind-folded in taking the weapon down and putting it back together. At this point in their training, they worked on sighting, leading the target, expectation of more targets, etc. This school lasted about six weeks.

Ed then went on to Treasure Island for a couple of days. When he arrived there, he saw Jim Lewis, from Sidney; a nice surprise! Ed was soon assigned to be a gunner on several different Victory Ships – Merchant Marine vessels that transported war materiel to forward locations in the war. The first was the SS Cape Neddick.

The destination of Ed's first Victory was to New Guinea. The ship left port near San Francisco and sailed 22 days before stopping. The cargo consisted of 300 soldiers who were replacements needed in the Pacific War. Once they dropped the soldiers off, the ship boarded about 300 Australian soldiers and headed for Brisbane, Australia.

Now, without soldiers, they loaded some needed cargo (wine) and took it to the war zone in the Pacific. The ship then went to Guadalcanal and boarded over 300 soldiers who were injured and suffering from shell-shock. Ed remembered this was a hard return trip to San Francisco. Some of the disabled men would go berserk, cause a ruckus, or try to jump off the side of the ship so as to commit suicide. The stricken men were loaded onto buses and delivered to a hospital for further treatment.

Ed's ship was sent next to the Philippines where it would be used to support the invasion at Luzon. When the ship came close to shore, Ed noticed all the Japanese bomber aircraft in the sky. There were 300 soldiers aboard. The ship headed back out to sea. He estimated there to be about twenty-four bombers headed the same direction as the Victory ship. The pending disaster didn't happen. Ed and many others figured that the bombers had nothing left for ammunition. The in-time strategy was "they didn't bother us, we didn't bother them".

A few days later, the Victory ship headed back into the Bay only to be sent back out to sea because of a nearing hurricane. After four or five days, the storm passed and they were able to get back into the bay and deliver the men ashore.

While the ship was in port, the Japanese planes (Zeros) began attacking their position with gunfire and suicide raids. The American P-38 Lightning airplanes kept the Zero's away as much as possible. At one point, Ed's ship was parked right next to another ship. All the men aboard Ed's ship were beneath deck. Most of the men on the nearby ship were on deck watching the action – and presenting enemy aircraft with targets of opportunity. Ed said that the Zero seemed to be coming right at them, but hit the ship with targets on deck, The suicide plane crashed into the bridge of the ship and then dropped into one of the huge smoke stacks. Many officers and sailors died instantly. The men on Ed's ship did what they could to rescue as many as possible. (While on leave at San Francisco, Ed and some other Sailors were in the dry dock area and saw that ship had returned to the friendly waters of California. They got a chance to go look inside it and the fuselage of that plane was still stuck inside... )

No injuries were reported on Ed's ship. As the Victory ship started to move out of the port area, he and others noticed a lot of floating bodies in the water. If the floating bodies had Japanese uniforms on them, they had orders to shoot them. The Japanese were known to be planting explosive charges on the propellers of the Victory ships.

Ed went back to San Francisco and was transferred to a refueling tanker ship. Ed caught some terrible sickness aboard this ship and had to be transferred off ship and onto a speedboat so he could get to a medical facility in Hawaii.

Humor: Actually, Ed said, he and some buddies went to a couple of bars in San Pedro the night before the tanker was to leave. With quite a bit of consumption of adult beverages, they headed back to San Francisco. Their ride had already left. The men began hitchhiking. A kind soul stopped for them. At about 0230 hours, they were trying to get back before the ship sailed at 0700 hours. One of the car's tires blew out. They fixed it and hopped back in. Another tire blew out. Somehow they found a good man from a parts store who gave them a suitable tire, all mounted up. They headed back to the car, put on the better tire and kept driving.

At 0700 hours the hard-luck bunch arrived at the port and noticed that the ship was still tied up. The fellows ran hard and made it. (Whew!)

The tanker left port in about half an hour. As it moved south and west, they got into some really rough seas. The ship was rolling from left to right, very hard. Ed, probably not right in his head and stomach, became sick. The sickness didn't go away and when possible, Ed was slipped onto the speedboat and to a hospital. Ed was hospitalized for about three weeks.

Next, Ed was re-assigned to another Victory ship as a Gunner's Mate. The ship was carrying men and supplies. They went to Okinawa, where the battle for that island was still hot. Ed said the Victory ship pulled up on the wrong side of the island... then it became stuck on a layer of reef. The other ships in the area were war ships which were heavily engaged in war actions. They were aiming their big guns at the side of a mountain that reportedly held an ammunition storage area. They must have it because of the huge explosion that resulted. Ed thought the whole island might sink! Five days later, they were towed off the reef.

When time was free, the men played cards, cleaned their weapons and boxed some. Many friends were made. Ed said that all of them are gone now. The food on the ships was usually good. When troops were aboard, they would finish one meal then get back in line for the next one. Long lines, etc.. Ed and the other crew members had bunks situated in the bow of the ship. The bunks were two high. There was no sharing of the bunks. When the ship was on smooth seas, they would dismantle them, haul them up to the main deck. They slept there as often as they could. A radio became available to the men. A sultry female voice led the radio program with sweet songs of the US. She also let the men know their girlfriends and wives were sleeping with other men. It may have irritated some men, but others thought that was just fine! The lady went on and on.

Leaving from Okinawa, the ship sailed west when the first Atomic Bomb was dropped. The men knew of it right away. They emptied a life raft that had some supplies in it and filled it with booze. Party, ON! The Victory ship returned to the port in Okinawa. The ships there were told to stand by for cargo headed to Japan. The suicide raids continued for about a week. Ed found out that the war was over when his ship landed in Hawaii. The men were jubilant! In a couple of weeks, the ship headed to San Diego.

Ed still had a few months of service left after the Japanese surrender. He had some work in assigned to a crew that had to put a war ship into mothballs (decommissioning). There were other chores that came up where his help was directed.

Overall, the whole experience was worth it. He wouldn't have given it up for anything. He kept in touch with many of his buddies. He attended a re-union in Minnesota. Others stopped by Potter on their way to another location.

Seaman Edward Killham, you gave your best for our Country. Thank you for your service!

The author is a volunteer interviewer for the Veterans History Project. The taped interviews he conducts are forwarded to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. where they become available for others to listen to. If readers know of Veterans wanting to be interviewed, please let the author know.

 

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