Charles Dietterich of Deep Creek sailed out of San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate aboard the heavy cruiser USS St. Paul (CA-73) in June 1945 and headed for the war in the South Pacific. He arrived just in time to take part in the attack on the Japanese main islands. The 18-year-old seaman, from North Wales, Pa., was the site-setter on a five-inch gun mount on the starboard side of the ship. He aimed and fired the gun.
With him in the turret was Seaman Mike Mastromato, another 18-year-old from Lancaster Pa. He put the five-inch projectile and powder charge in the gun’s chamber. Mike also inserted the fuse in the round just before it was fired.
“I’m in the gun turret and I’ve got my earphones on. I’m getting my firing directions from the bridge,” Dietterich, the 90-year-old former seaman recalls 70 years later sitting in the living room of his Florida home a long way in space and time from the Pacific war.
“The kamikazes were attacking the fleet. Of course, we couldn’t see them in the eight by 10 ft. steel turret we were encased. The temperature was approaching 120 degrees inside. The noise from the firing was incredible. “Once we got our sites set we fired as fast as we could until we were told to reset the sites. When the firing was over Mastromato and I climbed out of our gun mount on the deck and surveyed the damage. There were ships sinking around us, kamikazes had crashed into some of them, others had missed the fleet. There were all kinds of things going on out there. “
Recalling it all today he said, “I often have trouble getting in an elevator. I have claustrophobic flashbacks from being in that gun mount during the war. I’m surprised I can still hear anything today.”
Dietterich and the St. Paul were part of Adm. Marc Mitscher’s “Fast Carrier Task Force-38,” that bombarded Honsho, the largest Japanese island, from July through August. It was the St. Paul’s duty to protect the U.S. aircraft carrier fleet’ whose planes were pounding the mainland industrial targets.
The St. Paul and other Third Fleet ships began patrolling the southeast coast of Japan as part of the U.S. Occupation Force at war’s end. Eventually the cruiser anchored next the Missouri, the U.S. battleship where the surrender ceremony took place on Sept. 2, 1945.
“We were right there when the surrender was signed. We could hear it and see it all. We heard it over the Missouri’s loud speakers,” he said. “We saw Gen. (Douglas) Mac Arthur come aboard the battleship. After the documents were signed it wasn’t a very long process—maybe 30 minutes or less.
“Gen. Mac Arthur concluded the ceremony by saying, ’These proceedings are ended.’”
Hundreds of American bombers and fighter planes flew over the fleet as a show of force the Japanese could not ignore. Word had it, Mac Arthur had the sky-borne armada circle overhead to make the flyover more impressive to the enemy participants on the battleship’s deck below.
Dietterich said he remembers going ashore into Tokyo and bartering American cigarettes for Japanese luxury goods.
“You could get a beautiful silk kimono with a dragon ornament on it for a couple of cigarettes. I sent one home to my girl, Virginia, back in North Wales.”
It wasn’t long after the surrender ceremony that the St. Paul pulled anchored and headed for China. There was a war being fought against Communist insurgents by Gen. Chiang Kai-Shek. What was left of his army was banished to the island of Taiwan at its conclusion of the battle by the Communists.
“We weren’t long in China. Then we sailed back to Pearl Harbor. It must have taken us a couple of weeks to reach Pearl,” he said. You could still see the damage from the Dec. 7th attack.
“When we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Harbor I had this absolutely fabulous feeling. I looked up at that bridge and thought: ‘Thank you Lord. But I tell you what, I wanted to see the world, but I didn’t want to see it this way.’”
“I took a long, dirty train ride back to Philadelphia and married Virginia, my childhood sweetheart. We lived next door to each other in North Wales from the time we were in diapers. That’s a long engagement. We’ve been married 70 years.
Dietterich took the G.I Bill after his discharge from the Navy. He attended Chicago School of Technology. For the next 40 years he worked as a Pennsylvania architect. He had his own home construction business—Cedar Hill Construction Corp. in Souderton, Pa.
For more than 50 years this old sailor has been involved in Baptist Church activities around the country.
“I got a calling to the ministry when I was up north. I was an evangelist who traveled all over,” he said. “When I preached I sketched my story in chalk before the congregation on Sunday to make my point. I told my story while drawing and using black lights and music. They loved it.
When he and Virginia moved to Port Charlotte in 1991 they continued working with the local Baptist community. He helped found and build the Victory Baptist Church in Port Charlotte. The Dietterichs have four children: David, Connie, Brenda and Faith.
Name: Charles Edward Dietterich
D.O.B: 15 May 1927
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 1944
Rank: Seaman 1/Class
Unit: USS St. Paul (CA-73)
Commendations: Pacific Theater Ribbon (1-Battle Star), American heater Ribbon, World War II Vicory Medal.
Battles/Campaigns: Japanese Main Islands
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 4, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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