Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 26, 2010 Cedar County News. It is being republished this week as part of the Cedar County News' Salute to Memorial Day.
COLERIDGE — With Memorial Day just around the corner, the Cedar County News is taking a look back at some of the men who have so valiantly served our country in the time of war.
Gilbert Brummels, Coleridge, was engaged in heavy fighting during the four years he served in the Navy during World War II.
Brummels spent two and one-half years aboard the USS Reid DD369, a Navy destroyer. Brummels was a shell loader for the biggest gun on the warship.
When the April 2010 Newsletter sent out to veterans and family members of those who served on the USS Reid arrived in Brummels’ mailbox the words on the front page immediately caught his attention.
The headlines read: “June 3, 1944 – Where were you?”
Brummels remembers exactly where he was on that day nearly 66 years ago.
He was aboard the USS Reid when the destroyer was caught in a “hairy encounter” off Biak Island, Dutch New Guinea.
The USS Reid was one of three destroyers that were the supporting force defending the amphibious landing on Biak.
The USS Reid and the USS Mustin were preparing for shore bombardment while the third ship was stationed about 10 miles distant for air guard.
The sky was overcast with low flying clouds.
A minute or two after 11 a.m. enemy planes were detected on radar according to the article in the Newsletter.
Almost immediately, 15-20 Japanese bombers dropped over the coastal ridge, taking full advantage of the low clouds.
“Eleven of the planes attacked the Reid,” said Brummels. “I watched a plane come in. I thought he had dropped the bomb too quick – but it exploded near our ship.”
A piece of shrapnel hit a man that was standing not too far from Brummels.
The captain of the Reid maneuvered the warship in a radical manner at maximum speed to present as narrow a target as possible as enemy planes made determined dive bombing, glide bombing and strafing attacks on the vessel from all directions in rapid succession
After over 20 minutes of intense attack - friendly aircraft appeared.
The Reid had been stuck numerous times by shrapnel and left four holes in the superstructure ranging five-eight inches in diameter.
It was amazing the ship had survived the concentrated attack.
The Newsletter said the Task Group Command had reported “the performance of the ship as a whole was outstanding and gave particular praise for the gun crews.”
Brummels was 25 years old when he enlisted in the Navy Dec 17, 1941. Pearl Harbor had been bombed ten days earlier, Dec 7.
Once Brummels left for Boot Camp at Great Lakes near Chicago, he would not be back home until in 1943 when he received a 17-day leave. Brummels was immediately shipped out to San Francisco and put on a troop transport headed to Pearl Harbor.
After working on ships that had been hit by the bombs for 10 days, he boarded the USS Reid that would make its way to the Aleutian Islands, which curve west from the tip of Alaska.
On Aug. 7, Brummels was on one of eight destroyers along with five cruisers that would bombard the big base held by the Japanese.
“It was terrible foggy at that time and when the sun came out we made a run on it,” Brummels said. “We sank a sub off the coast – it was the sub that had torpedoed an aircraft carrier in the Battle of Midway.”
Brummels recalls the ship picking up five Japanese survivors from the sub and taking them to Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island.
The USS Reid made its way back to Pearl Harbor before leaving for Pago Pago in the Samoa Islands, and then on to the Fiji Islands before ending up in Australia where the soldiers earned a few days off.
“We were half way around the world,” said Brummels. “We had a few days of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in Sidney.”
The warship loaded up with fuel and supplies before engaging in heavy fighting in the battle at Guadalcanal and New Guinea.
“You could see the battle lines,” Brummels said.
Brummels’ ship would make 11 more landings before he was allowed on leave.
“I came home on a 30-day leave in September 1944 and married Lois,” he said.
When Brummels went back, he was given a different assignment and he was not aboard the USS Reid when it sank Dec 11, 1944.
“When the USS Reid sank – 108 solders died,” Brummels said.
While Brummels was on the huge troop transport, the USS Hyde, he had a chance meeting with a family member from back in Nebraska.
“My name was announced over the PA system and they told me to go the office,” said Brummels. “I wondered what I had done.”
An officer on the ship greeted Brummels. The officer was his brother-in-law, Dick Nordhues who was married to Lois’ sister. This was the first time they had met.
Brummels would see Iwo Jima and Okinawa and his ship would be engaged in several more battles before the war was over.
“It would take an encyclopedia to tell you all the places I went,” Brummels said.
Brummels’ ship was near Japan when they heard the Japanese had surrendered.
“We could hardly believe it,” Brummels said.
The warship Brummels was on would spend the next 14 days picking up American prisoners of war held by the Japanese.
Brummels was a B-M/2nd Class Petty Officer when he was discharged from the Navy Oct. 30, 1945. It took Brummels a little while before he could settle back into the normal routine of life back in Nebraska, though.
He jumped a little when he was sleeping and he would wake up every four hours just like he did when he was on watch aboard the USS Reid.