Sunday, July 30, 2017

A day with a D-Day veteran who turned 95

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Bob Jagers is quite a celebrity in our area and member of our parish.  He is a very nice man and wonderful storyteller.  He visits the local schools, and you can hear a pin drop when he speaks to youngsters learning about D-Day in their history classes.  The kids love him and call him back over and over.
To say the least, Mr. Jagers has quite a story to tell.
This weekend, Beatriz and I spent an evening celebrating Bob’s 95th birthday.  It’s always a treat to celebrate anyone’s 90-plus birthday, especially a man who can speak personally about the gunfire and sounds of D-Day 1944.  Bob was not among those who landed, but he did spend time at sea supporting the invasion.
A few years ago, Bob published his story in a book called Whales of World War II:
I was born in 1922 in Chicago, Illinois, and later moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  
 
I graduated high school in Grand Rapids.  I went to two years of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids before entering the war.  I enlisted in the Navy in April of 1942.  But they permitted me to finish my term.  
In June of 1942 I was sent to Great Lakes naval training center, for my boot camp.  After boot camp, I went to quatermaster signaling school .  
Upon completion, we were asked what kind of ship we wanted to be on, and I said I wanted to be on a submarine.  They interviewed me and gave me some exhaustive tests for submarine duty, and they said I was number 21.  The next complement of sub sailors needed was of 20.  If any of the previous 20 were rejected, or refused to go for some reason, then I would be selected.  
Looking back 50 years, I was quite fortunate in that all 20 of them were selected.  The next thing I knew I was on a train for amphibious training at Solomons Maryland.  
I spent several months there, went aboard a training vessel, a LST training vessel on the Chesapeake Bay.  
While aboard this training vessel, we had some cases of spinal meningitis.  Since we were out in the bay, and spinal meningitis is very contagious, they sent one man that was ill ashore in what we called a small boat or a LCBD.  
As we were out in the bay, they discovered a second sailor that was ill, so they put him in a second LCBD and took him to the hospital.  Well on the small boat, it required an officer, a signalman, plus the small boat crew.  
So we went aboard and I was the signalman.  
This is wartime so there were no lights, you have to feel your way and it was midnight or dark. And our officer said, “well I wanna take a shortcut”.  
Instead of heading along the shore and going back to Solomons, he took a shortcut, but we got lost. 
We ended up into a tributary of the Patuxen, at a farmer’s dock, and we went to the farmer’ house, and we found that we were close to the Patuxen naval air base.  So they called the air base and they sent an ambulance and the sick patient plus the officer went in the ambulance.  The boat crew and ourselves had the ship for ourselves.  Well we followed the river up to the naval base.  We spent the night at the naval base, had breakfast, and returned to our ship.  Aboard this training vessel, we had some powdered milk, and the powdered milk was about the size of a coffee can.
Later on, when we received our own ship, we had to sail to New York, and we were given a list of things of things we had to order, and on this list was ten cans of powdered milk.  The storekeeper thought that ten cans of powdered milk would not be enough, so he changed the manifest to read one hundred cans.  When the cans came they were huge, like a thousand pounds instead of ten pounds.  So two years later when we decommissioned that ship, we still had some of that original powdered milk.  We put that powdered milk in every available place we could find.  It was down in the engine room, it was down in the flag locker which was part of my responsibility, that was rather an unusual story.  We sailed from New York to Bermuda, where we gathered a convoy to sail towards North Africa.  It took us 36 days to go from New York to Bermuda to North Africa.  
An LST is the slowest ship in the convoy.  It travels maybe four or five knots,  about six miles an hour.  Not only do you travel from Bermuda to North Africa, but you have to zig zag.  So I’m sure that the destroyers and destroyer escorts that were accompanying us really didn’t like to see the LST’s come along because the convoy moved very slowly.  
We went to the straits of Gibraltar, landed at the naval base of Oran.
On page 109 of Whales of WWII, Robert recalls D-Day and his participation.  He remembers the heroic work of U.S., U.K., and Canadian young men landing all over the French coastline.  It must have been an awesome day for a 22-year-old sailor.
In 2014, Bob spent the 70th anniversary in France with some of the men he spent D-Day 1944 with.  We did a show about it, and it was a treat to listen to him.
In 2017, we got to spend some time with Bob and his large family.  It was a great honor!  Ninety-five is a wonderful age, especially when you can tell such a great story!
P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

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