It was March 7, 1944 when Charles Kueny of Punta Gorda, Fla. got drafted. After a month’s basic training, instead of the usual 12 weeks, at Bainbridge, Md. he was sent aboard the USS Escalante a Navy tanker as a loader on a three-inch gun forward.
“The Navy was so desperate at that point because so much shipping had been lost to German U-boats. The Germans almost won the war with their submarines,” he said.
It was one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. Navy, hauling thousands of gallons of aviation gasoline from New York to Scotland and Ireland in 1944. Scores of German U-boats were prowling the North Atlantic waiting for prey like the Escalante.
“None of the 100 to 150 men wanted to be on that tanker. We sailed across the North Atlantic at six knots, the speed of the slowest ship in our convoy, zigzagging all the while,” the 88-year-old ex-Navy man explained. “I made one round trip on that tanker and one trip was enough.
“Shortly after we first arrived in Scotland aboard the tanker we were refueling two battleships, the USS Texas and the USS Arkansas, in the Irish Sea. It was just before the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944,” Kueny said. “German bombers approached our anchorage, but turned away because of the massive fire power of the battleships.
“After that we sailed on to Portsmouth, England and were at the docks there during another German bomber raid. We were called to general quarters, but I don’t remember seeing any enemy planes.
“After sailing back to New York, aboard the Escalante, I was transferred to the USS Schmitt (DE-676), about one-third the length of the tanker. Our DE was 306 feet in length. She was never made to take on the North Atlantic,” the old salt said.
“The destroyer escort was named for Father Aloysius Schmitt, the first American chaplain killed in World War II. He was a Catholic priest who died when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor,” Kueny said.
“I made five complete trips across the Atlantic during the war aboard the Schmitt. Probably the two that were the most memorable was the one during the hurricane and when we joined the hunter-killer pack,” he said.
“We sailed through a bad hurricane off the New Jersey coast aboard the Schmitt in 1944. It tore the coast up and sunk one of the destroyers in our fleet, that was larger than we were,” Kueny recalled 65 years later. “It was a frightening experience as waves rolled over the top of our ship.
“On our fifth trip across the Atlantic we were pulled off convoy duty and our destroyer escort joined a hunter-killer group that consisted of an aircraft carrier and four destroyer escorts. They went out searching for German submarines to sink,” he explained.
“A German sub had sunk one of the escorts in the killer group and we were its replacement,” Kueny said. “Our DE spent the next six weeks looking for German subs.
“We dropped a lot of depth charges on German submarines. When they exploded they would shake our ship’s bulkhead and shatter all the light bulbs aboard ship. The depth charges were pretty powerful. They would kill all the fish within 100 yards of the explosion when they went off.”
When Kueny transferred from the tanker to the DE he became the first loader on one of the main three-inch guns on the bow of the USS Schmitt.
“When I went aboard the DE they made me hot shell man but I got fired. I wore a pair of asbestos gloves that reached to my elbow. It was my job to catch the expended three-inch casing as it was ejected from the gun. If I didn’t catch the shell I was suppose to at least deflect the brass casing out of the way.
“After three rounds I got fired. They made me the third loader on one of the two main guns on the Schmitt’s bow. It was my job to pull the unfired shell out of the ready box and hand it to the second loader who jammed it into the gun’s breach.”
When the fist Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Kueny had just finished amphibious training at what is now the amphibious base at Little Creek, Va. He was about to go aboard LCI-574 and be sent to the Pacific Theatre to fight the Japanese.
“I was in New Orleans waiting on the LCI to arrive. It was a great party town to end the war in,” he recalled with a smile. “Everyone was very, very happy the war was over.
Like millions of other servicemen who fought in World War II, Kueny considers President Harry Truman one of this country’s greatest presidents because he ordered the Air Force to drop A-Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“I get very upset when I hear young people bad-mouthing President Truman, because he ordered the dropping of these bombs. It’s very easy for a young person to watch World War II on television and say there was no need to drop these bombs,” Kueny said. “But when you were in World War II about to be sent to the Pacific to fight the Japanese, dropping these A-Bombs was an entirely different thing. I think Mr. Truman saved one million American lives by dropping these bombs.
“He made a great decision when he ordered the dropping of both atomic bombs. Everyone of us Americans who were in World War II was glad to get the war over with and get back home.”
Kueny never left the States aboard LCI-574. He was discharged from the Navy on July 17, 1946.
“I went to work for Sears as a salesman. Thirty two years later I retired as store manager of the Sears store in Fairfax, Va. I retired a bit early because my first wife was dying of lung cancer,” he said. He married Beverly, his second wife, several years later and they retired to Deep Creek in 1987.
The couple has six children. Kueny has two children from his first marriage: Richard and Francis. His second wife has four children from her first marriage: Maryland, Robert, Gary and Ronald.
Name: Charles F. Kueny
D.O.B: 8 July 1924
Hometown: Oklahoma City, Okla.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 7 March 1944
Discharged: 17 May 1946
Rank: Seaman 1st Class
Unit: USS Schmitt, USS Escalante
Commendations: European Theatre Medal, American Theatre Medal, Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of North Atlantic
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Aug. 20, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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