Andy Knef joined the Navy in 1942 at 17 with his parent’s permission. Trained as an aviation machinist mate, he spent most of his time as a tail-gunner on a Martin Mariner (PBM) twin-engine seaplane flying combat missions in the Atlantic and Pacific.
“My father had been in the Army in World War I. I knew I didn’t want to do that,” the 83-year-old Port Charlotte, Fla. man said. “I figured in the Navy I’d get three meals a day and a bed to sleep in.”
He was assigned to Squadron PPB-214 that flew out of Norfolk, Va. On most of his missions in the Atlantic they escorted ship convoys to Europe. They also flew missions looking for enemy submarines, but never spotted any.
The Mariner was a huge plane that bristled with .50 cal. machine guns, and also carried bombs and torpedoes. They would attack every enemy ship afloat except a battleship which they asked the carrier fleet to help them sink.
On Jan.15, 1943 his PPM was transferred to the Pacific Theatre of Operation.
“It took us 19 hours and 45 minutes to fly nonstop from California to Honolulu,” Knef recalled. “After reaching the Hawaiian Islands we flew on to Kwajalein, Saipan and we accompanied the carrier USS Saratoga, hit by kamikazes, back to Saipan for repairs.”
His new unit was PPB-208 that eventually flew out of a seaplane base at Kerama Retto, 17 miles west of Okinawa. Their main target was ships supplying enemy forces throughout the Pacific. They also attacked land targets in Japan, China and Korea.
Reading from a hard covered reddish-brown note book that contained a war diary of these activities as a teenage sailor, World War II came alive in the words of an old man sitting at his dining room table many years and many miles away from the fighting.
“April 8, 1945: We picked up a pilot that ditched in the sea.
“April 12, 1945: We sited bogies off in a distance on patrol, but didn’t engage them.
“April 26, 1945: A Jap pilot was standing on a beach near his single-engine float plane. I shot at the plane and when it blew up I waved at him.
“May 30, 1945: I spotted a Jap fighter flying 1,000 feet above us. We opened up on him, but he never fired a shot at us as he flew off. On the same flight I shot down a Jap Zero (fighter) and another one ran off. I took a pot shot at a TBM (American torpedo bomber) by mistake. He flew toward us from out of the sun and we couldn’t see what he was.
“May 31, 1945: We bombed and strafed two motor launches off the coast of China. One sank a couple hundred yards from shore and the other sank a mile or two off shore.
“June 6, 1945: We flew up to Korea and shot up a small convoy of ships. We ran into some bogies. We smoked three of them. We took some fire from enemy planes and our flight engineer was hit in the right elbow. He was the first member of our crew wounded.
“June 8, 1945: We loaded up with ammunition and decided to shoot up a couple of Jap held islands. We shot up some buildings and large storage tanks. We ran into heavy enemy ground fire.
“June 16, 1945: On a flight over Japan we saw a F4U Corsair shot down in flames. Pilot bailed out. His plane crashed near a Jap airfield. He landed about a mile away. We couldn’t pick him up.
“June 22, 1945: We picked up 12 men from another PBM crew shot down by Jap night fighters. After we rescued them we had to taxi at sea for 14 miles until we could find a fairly calm stretch of water and fired our jet assists to get into the air. We all got back to base safely.
“June 24, 1945: We accompanied a strike on Sakis Hma Island held by the enemy. We strafed a light house. Uneventful.
“June 30, 1945: .We made a sea landing and picked up a Marine pilot in a life raft.
“July 9, 1945: Made a bombing run on a Jap light cruiser. We took plenty of anti-aircraft flak. Six of our crewmen hit by flak. None was seriously wounded. When we landed I looked at our plane. It looked like a piece of Swiss cheese.
“July 14, 1945: Bombed Jap motor launch north of an island called Kyusha. Blew it in half and damaged three others.”
Shortly after the Japanese surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945, Knef was aboard the USS Hamlin (AB15) that sailed into Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony. He sums it up in a letter to his parents.
His letter is dated “Sept. 2, 1945, TOKYO BAY.” Knef writes: “Dear Mom and Dad,
“There are some who think this stamped envelope may be of value in later years. It will be postmarked with the date and the locale of the signing of the surrender terms on the envelope. I see this only as a memento to remember the day.
“Although we’re anchored not far distance from the USS Missouri, where the surrender ceremony is to take place, it is doubtful that we will get to see much of it. However, we’re grateful for the opportunity to be part of the occupation forces on this eventful occasion.
“Here’s to see you soon. Your loving son, Andrew”
“On Sept. 27 1945 we headed home. I never got an occupation medal because you had to be in Japan at least 30 days and I wasn’t,” Knef recalls. He was discharged from the Navy in November 1945.
In 1985 Knef retired from the post office in Long Island, N.Y. He and Madeline, his wife, moved to Port Charlotte the same year. Two things he is most proud of: His son, Andrew Jr., was a Navy man. He served 27 years as a deep water diver and diving instructor. And his granddaughter, Paige LaBarara, joined the Navy last November after graduating from Port Charlotte High School. She’s being trained as a computer specialist in the service.
Name: Andrew W. Knef
D.O.B.: 14 October 1925 – 5 March 2010
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Address: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1942
Commendations: Two Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Air Medals, Asiatic-Pacific and Atlantic Medals as well as the World War II Victory Medal.
This story was published in the Charlotte Sun, Port Charlotte, Fla., July 30, 2009. It has been republished with permission
Andrew W. Knef, Sr.
October 14, 1925 – March 5, 2010
Andrew W. Knef Sr., 84, of Port Charlotte, Fla., passed away peacefully Friday, March 5, 2010, with his family at his bedside.
Born Oct. 14, 1925, in Brooklyn, N.Y., he was the son of Andrew Adolphus and Mary Irene and brother of James, Myrtle, and (John) Kenneth.
Andrew was a highly decorated World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Navy Pacific Campaign as a tail-gunner on a PBM aircraft. He continued his government service as a U.S. Postal Service Letter Carrier and Volunteer Firefighter in Islip Terrace, N.Y. After his retirement in 1985, he and Madeline relocated to Florida. “Handy Andy” will be missed by family and friends. “Dad, we love and miss you.”
Andrew is survived by his loving wife of 57 years, Madeline; children, Denise (Wlazlo), Susan (DiRico), Deborah (Leone), Andrew Jr., Peter, Sharon (Rocher) and Marlene (Civin); 16 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to TideWell Hospice or the American Cancer Society of Charlotte County, Fla.
Arrangements are by Harvey, Englehardt and Metz of Fort Myers, Fla.
Printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, April 1, 2010.