Ex-crew of WWII-era USS Tucson gather to recall days at sea

2013-04-21T00:00:00Z Ex-crew of WWII-era USS Tucson gather to recall days at seaDrew McCullough For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

World War II veterans who served aboard USS Tucson gathered this weekend to remember their role in history.

The USS Tucson, a light cruiser, played an essential role in defeating Japan during the war. Former crew members have held a reunion every year since 1989 in various cities; this year's was in Tucson at the Hilton El Conquistador resort.

Jack Dunbabin, who served aboard the USS Tucson as a radioman, said he looks forward to the reunion every year.

"You're always real happy to see your buddies again," he said. "Sit around and find out what they did for the last year."

Gerald Anderson, an electrician striker on the ship, said he enjoys the time he gets to spend each year with the men he served alongside.

"We get to be us and just talk - we've all got sea stories," he said with a chuckle. Anderson traveled from Minnesota to attend the reunion.

Event organizer Al Hall enlisted at 17 years old and boarded the ship on Jan. 5, 1945, as a water tender, ensuring proper water level in boilers and applying steam to the ship's engine.

"I was dumber than a post when I went on the ship, and I grew up to be a man," Hall said. "It was just a growing-up process that kids don't get nowadays."

Hall still appreciates the men he met aboard the USS Tucson and the time he gets to spend with them every year at the reunion.

"I've got the name of everyone who was ever on that ship and the ages of them," he said.

The USS Tucson was part of Task Force 38 under Vice Admiral J.S. McCain, Sen. John McCain's grandfather. It performed a mission that was "so secret, even the government doesn't know about it anymore," Dunbabin said. Its mission on July 10, 1945, was to break off from the rest of its fleet, which consisted of five carriers, two battleships, six cruisers and 17 destroyers.

"We were the decoy," Dunbabin said. "The Japanese knew we were going to invade, so the idea was we would take off and go south and the fleet would go north."

Once the USS Tucson broke away from the fleet, it began transmitting false radio signals to trick Japan into thinking the fleet was heading south for a land invasion. That let the rest of the fleet bombard Japanese land from battleships.

Shortly after the Tucson's mission, Japan surrendered to the U.S. on Aug. 14, 1945, which ended World War II. The surrender took place aboard the USS Missouri, a battleship that was 200 yards from the USS Tucson at the time, Dunbabin said.

"We sat on the deck and watched the whole thing," he said. "We couldn't hear anything, but you could see people walking around - so we were at that historic moment."

After the war, the USS Tucson received a battle star for its mission. The ship was decommissioned on June 11, 1949, in San Francisco and put in reserve until June 1966. It was then used for tests until 1970 and sold as scrap iron in February 1971.

As the decades pass, fewer veterans are able to make it to the reunion each year. Hall, 85, said he's the second-oldest guy still alive who was aboard the ship, and only eight original crew members are still around.

"Gone," he said, "but not forgotten."

The USS Arizona is well known because it was bombed at Pearl Harbor, the attack that led to U.S. involvement in the war, but not many know about the USS Tucson and its role in ending the war.

"I think the citizens of Tucson would like to hear about the Tucson," Dunbabin said "It's their ship. It's named after them - they should be proud of it."

"I was dumber than a post when I went on the ship, and I grew up to be a man."

Al Hall, former USS Tucson crewman

"I think the citizens of Tucson would like to hear about the Tucson. It's their ship. It's named after them - they should be proud of it."

Jack Dunbabin,

served aboard the USS Tucson as a radioman

Drew McCullough is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact him at 573-4117 or at starapprentice@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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