Like millions of other servicemen in World War II, Jack Reynolds who lives in Grove City south of Englewood, Fla. on the way to Placida, never made it to the front lines and the fighting. He was a radio operator on a PBY airplane, at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station and aboard the troop transport Gen. Ballou during two trips to India at the end of the Word War II.
“My life in the Navy wasn’t very exciting, but I really did like flying aboard a PBY (Flying Boat) as a radio operator,” the 86-year-old former seaman said. “We flew out of the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville and mostly we towed targets for fighter pilots to shoot at. Once in a while they’d shoot a hole in the tail of our airplane which wasn’t too good.
“Then I was transferred to the Naval Air Station’s salvage yard. They took me out to this field full of World War I biplanes. For as far as you could see on both sides of the road there were these old fighter planes from World War I,” Reynolds said. “It was my job to take the radio units out of each plane. They were dismantling these airplanes. They took out the engines, the radios and all the other equipment and all that was left was the fuselages. I understand they took the bodies of these WW I planes out to sea on a barge and dump them over the side 25 to 30 miles off shore.
“Since I had radio experience I was transferred to a big hanger on base where they reconditioned fighter planes. I was put to work installing new radio equipment in F-4F Wildcats, F6-F Hellcats and F-4U Corsairs,” he said. “They were running an assembly line to recondition these planes. They took each plane apart and rebuilt it. Our’s was the last department to install new equipment in these planes. After leaving us the planes were sent to the paint shop where they were spray painted again. From there they went back to the fleet.”
After working for two years at the airplane repair shop, Reynolds was sent aboard the troop transport USS Gen. Ballou in Norfolk, Va. headed for India. A month later he and the troop transport sailed into Calcutta,” he said.
“We sailed the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean to reach our destination,” the old salt said. “We sailed over there to pick up troops who had taken part in the North African Campaign during our first cruise to India. We brought them back to New York City.
“On our second trip to India we picked up a bunch of WAVES, WACS and nurses together with more troops. A lot of them got seasick on the return trip home,” Reynolds remembers with a chuckle.
Initially he was given the job as one of the helmsman who was responsible for steering the ship.
“I told them I had never steered a ship any bigger than a row boat. The lieutenant in charge of the watch said, ‘No problem, we’ll show you how to do it.’ For the next three months I was steering the ship while on watch,” he said.
Everything seemed to be going fine until one day while at the wheel the ship’s big compass in the wheel house started spinning and acting up.
“I didn’t know what to do or where I was. I turned the boat almost all the way around trying to catch up to the compass and get back on course,” Reynolds explained. “Finally, I was told to stop turning the ship and wait for it to stop spinning.
“The ship’s mechanic was sent over to find out what was wrong with the compass. It didn’t take him long to find out there was nothing wrong with the compass, it was me!” he said. “He told the captain there was something wrong with the compass’ mechanism to keep me out of trouble. I heard nothing more about the incident.”
Reynolds completed his duty aboard ship as the radio operator. On Jan. 7, 1946 he was discharged from the Navy and he returned to Miami where his family lived. He met his second wife, Katie, there and together they moved to Arcadia after his father retired and bought a couple of acres to build on near the DeSoto County cow town.
After building a home in Arcadia for his dad, who served in the Infantry in World War I, he and Katie spent a few months each year aboard their 30 foot sailboat sailing the Bahamas and living off the sea. When they weren’t sailing Jack worked as a carpenter around Arcadia. Over they years they acquired a half dozen fixer-upper houses they improved on and rerented.
In 1986 they moved to Grove City and purchased a piece of property on Lemon Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway where they built their home. They loved it there among the mangroves and winged wildlife that visit them daily looking for food along the shoreline that forms part of their front yard.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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William Jackson (Jack) Reynolds, 90, passed away peacefully on June 10, 2014 in the home that he skillfully built on the Intracoastal Waterway in Grove City, Florida. Born in Ellijay, Georgia in 1923, Jack was a veteran of the U.S. Navy and served honorably in World War II.
After returning from the war, Jack was a long-time resident of Miami. His love of the ocean was reflected in his passion for sailing, his skill at diving and his knowledge of all things related to the marine world. He and his wife Kate shared in many adventures during their 21 years of sailing in the Caribbean.
As were his wishes, his ashes will be scattered in the ocean that he so loved.
Survivors include his loving wife Kate, daughters Diane (Howard) Williams of Miami, and Donna Remann of Arcadia, and grandsons Corey Remann of Arcadia and Brandon (Jacqueline) Blue of Miami.
Private services will be held. In tribute to Jack’s life, your donation to the Salvation Army is greatly appreciated.
Published in Miami Herald on June 19, 2014