Shortly after graduating from high school in 1943 at 17 in Philadelphia, Pa., Warren Hope of Gulf Cove, in Charlotte County, Fla. joined the Seabees. His parents had to sign him into the service because of his age.
Following boot camp in Sampson, N.Y. and additional heavy equipment training in the States, he shipped out in San Francisco and headed for the war zone. Thirty-one days later Hope stepped off a transport with thousands of other troops at Saipan, part of the Mariana Island chain in the South Pacific.
He became a 2nd class machinists-mate attached to the 23rd Naval Construction Battalion called Seabees. These were the people who built the docks, breakwaters and runways used by the Navy, Marines and Air Force on the Pacific islands during the Second World War.
“When we arrived on Saipan the Marines were still fighting the Japanese. It was July 1944. We were sent there to lengthen and widen the Japanese fighter base on the island so our B-29 bombers could use it,” he recalled 70 years later.
Hope’s job was to keep the heavy equipment — trucks, steam shovels and bulldozers–used by the Seabees operational. As he said, “I was no war hero. I was just doing my job.”
One of his better stories about life as a Seabee in the Pacific was the result of a letter he sent his mother and father.
“I wrote home and told my parents I would like to have a camera. We weren’t allowed to have them at the front,” Hope said. “The next thing I got from my folks was a wooden box that contained a cake my mother made. When I started to cut it up for me and the guys in my unit I got a big surprise.
“My mom wrapped a small Brownie camera in wax paper, cut out the center of the cake, put the wrapped up camera in the hole and spread icing over the cake to conceal its contents,” he explained with a grin. “When I started cutting the cake for me an the guys they couldn’t believe what she had done.”
A camera with no film is almost a useless as no camera at all. When he voiced his dilemma to his buddies, one of the guys in his outfit had a solution. He was a dedicated camera bug before the war and knew all about the developing process.
“Poncho, a kid from New York told me, ‘I can take care of your film problem.’ He did, he stole a roll of aerial film from a Navy observation plane. He also came up with a red light from somewhere he used in a darkroom he made to cut the much larger aerial film to size so it fit my Brownie.
“In addition, Poncho procured developing chemicals from the Navy, too. We developed the negatives, dried them on a clothesline in a Quonset hut where we slept. Then we contact printed each picture to size,” he explained. “From then on everywhere we went I would take my camera with me and shoot pictures of what we were doing.”
A lifetime later Hope had pictures from all over the Pacific he took with his Brownie. They fill a photo album he put together after the war.
“For 42 years my father was the choir director of the United Presbyterian Church in Germantown, a suburb of Philadelphia. I grew up singing.
“One day while serving on Guam I got a call from my commanding officers. Someone from Adm. (Chester) Nimitz ‘s staff (he was Supreme American Commander in Hope’s part of the Pacific) was waiting to see me.
“The officer told me, ‘Adm. Nimitz understood you were a ‘Choir Man.’ I explained that my father was the choir master at a Philadelphia church. He said the admiral wanted to put together a choir to sing on Armed Forces Radio at Easter and I was his man.
“‘How am I going to put together a choir if I don’t have any sheet music?’ I inquired. “The officer replied, ‘Can you get sheet music?’ I told him my father had pages of it back in Philly.
“The officer from Nimitz’s staff said, ‘Go down to the radio shack and contact San Francisco. They will call your father and ask him to provide you with the sheet music.'”
Four days later the sheet music arrived by plane at the airbase in Guam.
“While the guy from Nimitz’s headquarters was standing there I asked him, ‘Where am I going to get these people to sing in this choir?’ He told me to make up a notice, something that could be put on a bulletin board. I did and they were scattered all over the area.
“I ended up with 34 guys in the choir–some from the Marines, others from the Air Force, a few from the Navy and others from the Army. A guy from the Corps dropped in and told me he could play the organ,” Hope recalled.
“He brought the pump organ over from the chapel at the Marine base on the island. This guy could play pretty good. With my dad’s sheet music and the other guys in the choir we started practicing.
“We practiced every chance we got for almost two months. Once we started sounding pretty good, the fellow from Armed Forces Radio came in one day and taped what we sang. We were on the radio the day after Easter 1945,” Hope said. “Our group had no name, but I got a commendation from the Navy for putting together the choir.”
Ironically, their choral presentation on the radio was run on the second day of the 82-day Battle of Okinawa. Okinawa was the biggest and most costly battle American forces fought in in the Pacific during World War II.
Work details were about the only connection Hope had with Japanese POWs. The Seabees used them as construction workers.
“One day I saw this Japanese soldier sitting in a compound drawing pictures on scraps of cloth he had gotten somewhere. He spoke a little English and I asked him if he could draw a picture of my girl. I pulled a picture of her out of my wallet and handed it to him.
“He drew this beautiful picture of her on a handkerchief I had. When I came home from the war I gave it to her,” Hope said. “He also drew other pictures of people with crayons on cloth for me.”
Late in the war American forces were about to invade the Japanese home islands.
“We were in a giant convoy on our way to Japan when they dropped the second Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki. There was nothing but wall-to-wall ships sailing with us toward Japan,” he said. “The captain of our ship came on the P.A. system and told us, ‘The war is over!’ We turned around and headed back to Guam.”
Fourteen months later, in November 1946, Hope came home from the Pacific, sailed under the Golden Gate and was discharged at Bainbridge, Maryland. He took the G.I. Bill and spent the next four years training to be an aircraft mechanic at the Rising Sun School of Aeronautics in Philadelphia.
Before he took the test to become an aircraft mechanic, he and a couple of buddies got into the construction business and started building houses in the Philly area. For the next half century his life was construction. He retired several years ago but his son runs the firm: Warren Hope Builders of Englewood, Fla.
A few days ago Warren Sr. and a neighbor friend, Beverly Wilyous, took the “Honor Flight” tour of the World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s a one day event in which a plane full of ancient warriors are flown at no charge to D.C. to view the memorial and other points of interest in the city.
“It was a wonderful days for both of us and I. I want to thank the people who sponsored the flight and made it possible. And I particularly want to thank the manager of the Englewood Wal Mart store for printing all the pictures I took.”
The Hopes moved to the Englewood area more than 35 years ago. The have three grown children: Warren, Eileen and Sharon.
Name: Warren Albert Hope
D.O.B: 8 Nov. 1927
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa.
Currently: Gulf Cove, Fla.
Entered Service: 6 June 1943
Discharged: June 1945
Rank: Machinist Mate 2nd Class
Unit: 23rd Naval Construction Battalion
Commendations: Pacific Theater Ribbon, American Theater Ribbon, World War II Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Saipan, Guam and Tinian
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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