Petty Officer John Denike of Venice helped keep Navy flying during WW II
Because John Denike worked as an aviation repair sheet metal worker for Schweitzer Aviation in the Elmira, Ny. area building glider planes before World II, he joined the Navy in 1941 and was immediately commissioned a 3rd class petty officer without attending boot camp.
For the next 2 1/2 years he repaired Navy airplanes in a hangar at Quonset Point.
“We took care of any kind of airplanes that flew in,” the 96-year-old former Navy-man explained. “The hanger I worked in developed the 1st Marine Night Fighter Squadron. They flew F4U ‘Corsairs.’
“I was transferred to the Pacific Fleet from Quonset Point and was sent to Pearl Harbor and from there to the Admiralty Islands in the Pacific. After that it was on to the Los Negros Islands and an outfit called ‘Hedron-10.’ Hedron-10 was Gen. Mac Arthur’s PBY (four-engine Consolidated flying boat) operation. They were the ones that flew the general out of the Japanese’s clutches and took him to safety in Australia.
“I was sent from Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands to Green Island, the most northern island in the Solomon Island Chain, to work with Combat Service Unit-58.1. They were a bunch of ‘Black Cat” PBY pilots whose job it was to rescue aviators shot down at sea.”
Working conditions on these airplanes in the islands during the war was tough because of the temperature.
“On all of these islands the daytime temperature could be 110 to 120 degrees,” Denike said.”Myself and another guy were installing radio gear in a PBY and our perspiration was filling up the bilges in the plane because of the extreme heat.
“One time this PBY hit the ground hard while landing and buckled in the middle. We had to tear the center out of the plane and rebuild it,” he said. “Since I was a 1st class petty officer by then in charge of getting the plane rebuilt, I was told that it was my responsibility to be aboard the PBY on its first test flight after the repairs. As far as I know the plane is still setting out there on that island. They never did fly it again.
“On Aug. 2, 1945 I was part of a group that was going to be sent to the China coast. We were going to invade Japan from the back. A few days later they dropped the first atomic bomb and then a second bomb. The war was over on Sept. 2, 1945 when the armistice was signed abroad the Battleship Missouri.
“I was the only man in our outfit that had enough points for discharge. I sailed home on an old freighter without air conditioning,” Denike recalled. “It sailed very, very slowly across the Pacific from the Philippines to San Francisco. It took us 31 days to reach the USA.
“I remember sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing Alcatraz in the distance in San Francisco Bay. I could see this big sign up in the hills behind the prison. It read: ‘ALCATRAZ WELCOME HOME.’”
He took a slow train across the country back to Boston where he was discharged. For 13 years Denike worked as a jewelers’ representative selling jewelry in New York State and Pennsylvania. Then he switched jobs and worked for an insurance company from 1949 until he retired in 1983.
He and his wife Marian moved to Englewood in March 1984 where the couple lived for 32 years until her death in 2015. They have three children: William, JoAnn, and Roger.
Name: John Hart Denike
D.O.B: 25 July 1921
Hometown: Albany, NY
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 12 Nov. 1941
Discharged: 24 Oct. 1945
Rank: Aviation Metalsmith 1st Class
Unit: U.S.N. Air Station Qonset Point, R.I.
Commendations: American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, American Defense Medal, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Pacific Theatre of Operation
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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