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WWII veteran remembers experiences

Caitlin Nearhood • May 26, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Robert Beatty quickly flipped through the pages of his beloved book about the U.S.S. Bataan, evidently on a mission. But nothing like ones from his past.

After a few minutes of searching, he smiled as he found his younger self in the fifth row of Group 47, the Navy’s air group, in uniform.

Though World War II took place about 70 years ago, Beatty still remembers most of his priceless experiences and memories in the Navy as a turret gunner.

Beatty, 90, served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Bataan from 1943-46 and endured 18 flights over Japan in his four years of service.

During the height of World War II, Beatty dropped out of high school to join the military at age 19 in 1943.

At first, he wanted to join the Marines, but was told he was too young.    

The Army gave him the same answer and suggested that the Navy might use him. They did, and Beatty packed his bags for boot camp in Chicago.

The ‘Windy City’ served as an adventurous place for young Beatty, as he and a few friends went exploring the town one night and stumbled upon a wedding reception in an apartment building. Curious, they decided to go in, only to be chased out shortly after entering.

“Don’t intrude where you aren’t invited,” he said of the lesson he learned.

Beatty also learned to be “fair, firm, and honest” during his years of service, characteristics that would prevail in years after serving his country.

During his time in boot camp and on, Beatty began recording the dates of his flights in a small journal and his boot camp stories in a notepad. One flight he recorded was on March 31, 1945, when he flew over Okinawa, Japan. He has held onto these keepsakes ever since.

After basic training, he volunteered to be a turret gunner, though he had no idea what kind of job it would be.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into” Beatty said.

He soon discovered the intensity of the job during his first flight when he went up 25,000 feet to release bombs. With bravery, he got used to the heights and the possibility that anything could happen to him at any moment.

Scary situations happened around him constantly. Search planes would go and never come back, or planes would be shot down. In a specific instance, seven planes like Beatty’s were sent off, but only two returned.

“Not saying I was scared would be lying, but it was a job that had to be done” Beatty said.

Sometimes, his experiences closely coincided with historical events. One time while flying over Japan, Beatty and his comrades were told not to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but weren’t told why. The next day, both cities were bombed.

Days on the ship were also intense at times. Some of his worst memories came from his experiences on the U.S.S. Bataan—one involved being in a typhoon that rolled the ship to a 30 degree angle, while another was when he stepped on pieces of a shipmate after the ship was hit.

Fortunately, his ship was never hit by a kamikaze, or his plane by anything life-threatening.

Life didn’t slow down after the military. After being discharged, Beatty repaired sewing machines, worked as a night watchman for Walleye Beef, a bartender, a farmer, a bus supervisor for a local school district, a truck driver for Pepsi, and more, but his job as a firefighter was the most significant job after being discharged.

From 1951 to 1978, he fought fires for the Sandusky Fire Department and even went up to the rank of interim fire chief for a brief time. He also was one of the founding members of Groton Township Fire Department.

Beatty’s bravery and thoughtfulness became obvious during his time as a firefighter. In the Blizzard of 1978, he worked 33 straight hours to give extra help. He also fought a fire at Holy Angels Church all by himself.

During his time in the Navy, Beatty earned four medals, including an air medal.

Another special time was his graduation on the Navy Pier in Chicago.

Perhaps the most exciting moment — if not one of the most exciting — came in 2005 when he got the opportunity to graduate high school, but not alone. His youngest son, Ryan, graduated that year, too. Both graduated from Margaretta High School.

With everything he’s accomplished, how does he want to be remembered?

“I tried to be a good role model” he said modestly. “I was proud of my country and service”

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