FALMOUTH – Earlier this year, James A. Robinson Jr. sat in his living room and recalled with eloquent detail the harrowing experience he lived through while serving aboard the USS McKee in the South Pacific during World War II.
Robinson, who served as a radioman during the war, recalled the day his skipper ordered the crew below deck as they were struck by a typhoon on Dec. 17, 1944. The ship was hammered with tall waves and relenting winds of 145 mph.
As tragedy loomed, the crew of about 300 men, moved in synchronized harmony from port to starboard to stabilize the ship.
“Boy, that was the scariest thing of all,” Robinson recalled in a story that appeared in the Portland Press Herald on May 28. “Three destroyers capsized in that storm. We didn’t because of the skill of the skipper and the fact that we had just refueled.”
Robinson died on Monday. He was 92.
Robinson grew up in Portland and graduated from Deering High School in 1938. He joined the Navy at age 17, attaining the rank of petty officer second class.
Robinson, like so many men of his generation, didn’t say much about his experiences during the war. His son, James Robinson III, of Palm Harbor, Fla., said he began opening up in recent years.
“He had some really incredible experiences on that ship,” Robinson said of his father. “He saw the mushroom cloud from Hiroshima. He also had a close call with a kamikaze plane, but because of the artful navigational skills of the captain, they were able to evade the plane, which crashed in the water next to the ship. My father was so close he could see the eyes of the young pilot.”
When the war ended, he returned to Portland to be reunited with his wife, Muriel, and their year-old daughter. The couple had nine children, but two died as infants of cystic fibrosis.
In 1954, the Robinsons moved to Bangor, where he helped establish WLBZ-TV, an NBC affiliate. He served as station manager for about 20 years.
Later, he became a corporate account executive for Blue Cross Blue Shield. He worked there for 20 years and retired at age 62.
“He was very dedicated to his work,” his son said. “He was successful at anything he did.
One thing he said to me when I was young was that if you try you are automatically in the top ten percent. There’s a lot of wisdom in that.”
Robinson and his wife retired to Myrtle Beach, S.C. The couple played golf nearly every day.
He had many interests such as traveling, classical music and reading. His wife died in 1996.
Robinson moved back to Portland in 2005 to be closer to his children. He was remembered by his son Tuesday as an intelligent, strong-willed and deeply religious man, who remained close to his faith his whole life.
“He wasn’t one to reach out and say I love you, but he would certainly respond in kind when we told him we loved him,” his son said. “I’ll miss his strength of character. He was like a rock and gave us all a foundation a sense of balance and security. With his passing, it’s a new age. It will take us all some time to adjust to that.”
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:
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Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person’s family and friends in lasting ways.