Thursday, May 23, 2013
SCARBOROUGH - As banners are hung and parades planned for Memorial Day, Jim Robinson's thoughts invariably travel to the South Pacific and the men who never came home from war.
Ninety-two-year-old Jim Robinson, a World War II veteran and resident of Scarborough, recalls a terrifying storm that struck while he was serving aboard the USS McKee in the South Pacific.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
MAINERS AT WAR
70,107 Mainers served
9,398 deaths during war
615 missing in action
WORLD WAR I
35,061 Mainers served
WORLD WAR II
112,962 Mainers served
37 missing in action
40,099 Mainers served
37 missing in action
8 prisoners of war
48,000 Mainers served
12 missing in action
20,853 Mainers served
51 people with ties to Maine killed
Sources: State of Maine, Maine State Archives and Press Herald research
VA’s Home Page: www.va.gov
VA budget, performance: www.va.gov/budget/report
IOM Coming Home report: books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12812
Costs of war: bit.ly/y5cLsH
Veterans quick facts: www.va.gov/vetdata/Quick_Facts.asp
War casualty reports: www.defense.gov/news/casualty.pdf
Brain Injury Center: www.dvbic.org
"This is something you always carry the rest of your life," said the World War II veteran and Scarborough Terrace resident.
At 92, Robinson is no longer able to attend parades and ceremonies, so he'll spend Memorial Day silently offering thanks to the men and women who died while protecting the country he loves.
Among those he remembers are a childhood friend killed on Iwo Jima and the nearly 800 men who died during a South Pacific typhoon that Robinson survived.
Robinson grew up in Portland and graduated from Deering High School before joining the Navy at 17. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., then in 1943 was sent to the South Pacific aboard the USS McKee.
It was there that Robinson experienced a tragic event that remains clear in his mind 68 years later.
Robinson, a petty officer 2nd class, was aboard the USS McKee on Dec. 17, 1944, when the skipper ordered all men below deck as the Third Fleet encountered a typhoon. The ship shuddered as it was hit by tall waves and sustained winds of 145 mph.
"Boy, that was the scariest thing of all," he said. "Three destroyers capsized in that storm. We didn't because of the skill of the skipper and the fact that we had just refueled."
Below deck, the skipper commanded the crew to move from starboard to port.
"Here we are, about 300 guys, and we all move to the left or to the right to help stabilize the ship," he said.
After the storm passed, Robinson emerged from below deck to see the sea strewn with wreckage of ships from the fleet. Three destroyers -- the same type of ship he was on -- capsized and sank and other boats sustained serious damage. The storm killed 790 men.
Robinson said he still thinks about not just those men, but the "thousands and thousands of people who could be alive, who normally would have been alive" had it not been for war.
After the war, Robinson returned home to Portland to his wife, Muriel, and the 1-year-old daughter he'd never met. He soon learned that his best friend from childhood, Bob Couri, had been killed on Iwo Jima.
When he went to the family to offer his condolences, Couri's father offered Robinson a job at the family business, Couri Motor Co.
"Bob and I used to say, when we grow up we'll take over this building," Robinson said. "You lose an old friend and it's sad."
Robinson worked at the dealership for a couple years before becoming one of the first television announcers in the state. He and his wife had nine children, two of whom died as babies from cystic fibrosis. He and Muriel were married 53 years when she died of cancer.
Sue Fowles, the daughter Robinson rushed home to meet, said she and her siblings grew up hearing their father's war stories and memories of growing up with Couri. Robinson instilled in his children the importance of recognizing Memorial Day as sacred, she said.
"He was always so respectful about the flag and anything to do with the country," she said of her father. "He was always very proud of the United States and recognized the valor that people showed in the war and the people who gave their lives."
While he won't attend a ceremony this year, Robinson is glad to see others continue to honor the sacrifices made by their fellow Americans.
"You see all the flowers, the banners -- it's a memorial. It strikes you that way," he said. "It's a feeling of pride in the nation."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: