WW II shipmates aboard USS St. Mary’s meet in Punta Gorda after 65 years

It's been togetherness for Rudy Ricci (left) and Jack Callahan these past several months after Rudy saw Jack's war story in the Sun newspaper. Neither had seen anyone from their World War II ship, the attack transport USS St. Mary's, since they got off the boat 65 years ago. Sun photo by Don Moore

The headline on the story in the Sun read: ‘Jack Callahan served aboard USS St. Mary’s at Okinawa.’ Rudy Ricci of Windmill Village mobile home park in Punta Gorda, Fla. couldn’t believe his eyes.

“After 65 years I finally found someone from my old ship I served on during World War II,” the diminutive former sailor said. “We were shipmates years ago and he lives in PGI (Punta Gorda Isles) and I live in Windmill Village 10 minutes apart.”

This is Jack Callahan at 21 about the time he graduated from boot camp and sailed to war aboard the attack transport USS St. Mary's Photo provided

This was Rudy Ricci at 17 when he got out of boot camp in 1944 and headed for the biggest battle in the Pacific during the Second World War. Photo provided

All the while Callahan was sitting at his elbow grinning at the camera as the two old swabbies got their picture taken for another war story.

“I was amazed when I got Rudy’s call,” Jack said. “He told me, ‘I was the shipfitter that cut the anchor chain during the typhoon.'”

If it hadn’t been for Rudy cutting the fouled anchor chain neither one of them may have been here to tell their stories Jack explained.

“He saved the ship,” the old salt said.

Jack was a coxswain who skippered a “Higgins Boat,” a plywood landing craft that transported troops and supplies ashore.

“That first day off Okinawa I must have made a dozen trips to the beach. On that first trip I took in Army troops. On the second run to the breach I brought in a five-inch gun and a Jeep. Before the day was over I was taking wounded

Coxswain Jack Callahan who ran a Higgins Boat during the landing at Okinawa is pictured in Manila, Phillippines on leave. Photo provided

back out to a hospital ship anchored in Buckner Bay,” the 89-year-old former sailor said.

Marines and soldiers attached to Adm. “Bull” Halsey’s fleet killed almost all the 125,000 Japanese holding Okinawa. The 82-day battle cost the lives of more than 12,000 Americans and wounded another 30,000. The fleet–some 1,500 ships strong–moved on to the invasion of the Japanese home islands.

On Aug. 6, 1945 Col. Paul Tibbets, piloting a B-29 bomber named “Enola Gay,” for his mother, dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Several days later a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. A few days after that the Japanese surrendered.

Rudy and Jack were aboard the St. Mary’s, APA-126 in Tokyo Bay, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed the surrender document aboard the Battleship Missouri ending World War II.

To commemorate the historic event, a sailor aboard their ship with artistic ability drew pictures of the first St. Mary’s in Tokyo Bay, part of the “Great White Fleet” that opened trade with Japan in the 1850s. He drew it on a series of envelopes for the sailors aboard their APA. He also drew a picture of their ship in the harbor during the surrender ceremony in 1945.

The caption read: “Tokyo Bay St. Mary’s and back 1850-1945.”

Jack was proud he still had both envelopes with their bright pink 5-cent Air Mail stamp on them. All these years he kept them protected in a plastic cover.

But more than anything else the two old sailors were happy to find someone from a lifetime ago who sailed with them into history. They’ve spent a lot of time together in the last several months talking about old times.

“The only disappointment we had, we didn’t have the joy of being Stateside when the surrender was announced and all the partying was going on,” Rudy observed with a big smile.

“We never got to kiss all those pretty girls in Times Square like those other sailors when the surrender was announced,” Jack added.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, November 25, 2010 and is republished with permission.

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