My Dad Was a Veteran
November 21, 2013
Does anyone watch NCIS? November 5th’s show was about Leroy Jethro Gibbs and his dad. He and his dad have a strained relationship at times, like a lot of us. In this show, Gibbs’s dad needs to go see a dying buddy from the war. He wants his son to take him. Of course, Gibbs was busy on a case, but he reluctantly took some time. Gibbs had heard the war story many times in the past from his father. But did he really listen to all the details? They finally found the dying buddy, and Gibbs was the one who probably received more out of the visit than any of them.
My dad was Robert Marvin Keegan. He died in September of this year. He was a veteran of WWII. He was on the ship the USS Cowie (DMS 39); the DMS stands for destroyer minesweeper. My dad was Fireman 1st Class, meaning he worked in the engine room.
Here is a little bit of his story: “After we swept the harbor in Sasebo, we set sail for Nagasaki to sweep that harbor. Nagasaki was about 50 or 60 miles south of Sasebo, and it was the first time in I went on liberty. I walked through Nagasaki, and it was total desolation; I didn't get to go through the whole city, but I remember seeing the corner of a building rising up about 25 feet, and it was the only thing I saw standing. Underfoot, there was a lot of gray ash. We were not told about radiation, so we had no idea that we were in possible danger. We sailed around the southern tip of Japan and into the Bay of Okayama; after that, we went to Kobe. We stayed there quite a while, and I think it was because we were the flagship for the mine sweeping fleet and we operated out of that area, kind of like a central command location. While we were there, we also swept mines around Osaka. After that, we headed for Yokosuka and worked up to Yokohama and that was in Tokyo Bay. By the time we arrived in Tokyo Bay, we had been in Japan for about seven months.”
“There was a term we used for certain people on board ship, and they were called racketeers. A racketeer was someone who could get things for you that you could not get for yourself, so you had to pay him for what you wanted. All of the cooks and bakers considered me a racketeer. As a general rule, the bakers baked bread all night long; it took a lot of bread to feed 360 guys. When they were through, they were covered with sweat and flour, and they didn't want to take a cold salt water shower. So they would call me in the engine room to see if I would turn the water on so they could take a hot fresh water shower. Most of the time, I was able to help them, and before they went to the shower, they would check to see if I wanted some bread dough, cooking oil, and sugar. And they would deliver these things to me on the way to the showers. I had my own hot plate in the engine room, and I weaved a wire basket and heated up the oil in a large fruit can. I would then pat out small rounds of dough, drop them in my wire basket, and deep fry them. When they were done, I would take them out and roll them in sugar and have hot sugar donuts with my coffee. I also received other specialties from the cooks when they wanted a hot fresh water shower. So you might say, at times things were good in the engine room!!!!”
What an experience for a young man just out of high school. Lucky for me, my dad composed his life story. Also lucky for me, I took an interest in genealogy and I interviewed my dad on video a few years ago about his time in the war. At that time, The Jackson County Historical Society was collecting actual interviews of veterans and sending them to the Library of Congress. My dad got a kick out of that one. He would tell people that his name was in the Library of Congress.
My dad was a great storyteller. Everyone liked listening to his jokes and stories. Of course, I heard them many times over and often wondered why he was telling me the same stories over again. Maybe it was because he had 10 kids and he wasn’t sure who he told. Or maybe he just wanted to spend time with me. I did spend a lot of time with my dad but looking back, it was not enough.
Midwest Genealogy Center