The WWII Story of a U.S. Navy Gunner Mate Third Class- Fred Nicholson
I was 20 in 1945 when WWII ended. I joined the navy in December 1942, to serve my country during its wartime need.
I was a gunner’s mate third class aboard the Naval Destroyer 168, the U.S.S. Amick and completed my service in February of 1946.
I was just a skinny kid from Columbus, Ohio, weighing only 110 pounds when I enlisted in the navy. My sisters and I had happy childhoods growing up in Columbus where I was born on New Year’s Day, 1925. My father worked in optics manufacturing, and I had a stay-at-home mom.
I first heard about Pearl Harbor at the Palace Theater when I was seventeen year’s old. I don’t remember what the movies were playing, but I will never forget the day Hawaii was bombed.
My sister Marty’s fiancé, Bob, whom I’d worshiped as a boy, had already enlisted, and I signed up for the Navy. I couldn’t wait to start my basic training at Great Lakes, Illinois. It turned out to be harder than I thought, both physically and emotionally, but after Boot Camp I weighed 140 pounds. My training was putting weight on me and turning me into a man.
After Gunner School, I went to Williamsburg, Virginia, for Ammunition School. I was beginning to see the world as the Navy-recruiting poster said, first in America then across the Atlantic Ocean. I was deployed overseas November 3 1943, into the North Atlantic where German U-Boats were.
The nine convoys I accompanied from America to Europe helped turn the tide of war with none of our ships lost. We were six naval destroyers constantly circling the outer perimeter of 350 to 500 ships, providing protection to Allied ships that gathered and deployed into different arenas of the war as we traveled across the ocean.
We ended up in the Mediterranean, I remember seeing the Rock of Gibraltar and was in awe of the battle-mounts projecting out of caves. What an amazing fortress it was. I saw Casablanca, Morocco where Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill demanded unconditional surrender earlier in the war. I was at Oran, Algeria and saw the devastation of the German sinking of many Allied ships in the harbor as Rommel’s defeated forces left the area. Palermo, Sicily and its people are among my favorite memories. I was seeing the world after all.
Everybody on our ship wanted action. We were idealistic young warriors with patriotism in our hearts. When action arrived, it wasn’t fun and games any more.
I lost my right eye and almost lost my hands in action. We were firing a .40 mm gun, and my hands caught in the breech of the weapon as I dropped shells into it. I couldn’t jerk them out, and each time Carl Neff fired the cannon, it sucked my fingers deeper into the mechanism. Carl finally stopped firing, and the medics drilled holes into my fingernails to relieve the pressure from the crush injury.
My ship helped sink the last German U-Boat, the U83, off the Boston Harbor where it could be seen from the New England shore on May 6, 1945. The Amick and the Atherton dropped depth charges on the German submarine and brought its reign of destruction to an end.
The U83 boat had sunk an American ship the S. S. Black Pointe outside of Boston harbor the night before our battle. Most Americans don’t realize just how close to American soil the Germans brought the war.
After the war was over, we returned to the states. Everyone was so happy, and some went wild. We kissed and hugged who ever we could find.
I returned home and worked in my Dad’s optical business for a while before moving to California and working with McDonald-Douglas building moon rockets. That’s where I met my wife, Mary. Mary worked at McDonald-Douglas also, and wrapped bandages on the home front during the war.
We moved to Squaw Valley, California, in 1978. I have a picture of my ship, the U.S.S. Amick, on the wall to remind me of my service, and I enjoy building airplane models from that time.
I was 20 in 1945, and I was scared most of the time. It was so cold, but I’d do it again tomorrow if my country needed me, and I were able. Now I’m 80 in 2005, 60 years after the end of WWII. Patriotism to me is to obey your country’s laws and defend it against all enemies. The war taught me courage is the ability to enter just about any situation without fear, and that war is the last resort.