The California lifestyle
Dec 7, 2013
The Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor 72 years ago today sank the battleship USS California as it sat moored next to other battleships.
But the ship was raised and repaired. When it finally sallied out again in 1944 from Bremerton, Wash., to join the Pacific Fleet and seek revenge on the Japanese navy, a Sandusky man was aboard, helping to man one of the anti-aircraft guns.
Robert “Bob” Kreimes, 88, served during the Battle of Surigao Strait, when the California helped sink a Japanese battleship. Kreimes also helped fight off kamikaze attacks and was aboard when the ship bombarded Japanese garrisons during amphibious attacks.
Kreimes still lives in Sandusky six months out of each year, but in the winter, he migrates south to Port St. Lucie, Fla.
On the phone from Florida, he recalled that when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was a teenager recovering at home from the broken ankle he sustained playing football. In 1943, at age 17, he dropped out of Sandusky High School and talked his parents into letting him enlist in the U.S. Navy. Many of his friends were also entering the service, Kreimes said.
“I dropped out like a lot of guys did. The war was really going heavy at that time. I just felt I should go,” he said.
Kreimes became a gunner, assigned to a crew manning a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun aboard the California.
One dramatic encounter with the war took place on Oct. 25, 1944, when a Japanese squadron of two battleships, one heavy cruiser and four destroyers entered the Surigao Strait, located in the Philippines. A much larger American fleet that included six battleships was waiting for the enemy.
Around lunchtime, the captain ordered the crew to get ready.
“He told us to eat a good meal, take a shower, clean up and put clean clothes on,” Kreimes said.
The idea was that if men were wounded, they’d be less likely to get dirt in the wound, he said.
At 3 a.m., General Quarters— a bugle call signaling action was coming — sounded. Battle stations were manned, and the battleship’s 18-inch guns opened fire.
“All of a sudden, all hell broke loose,” Kreimes said.
The California fired dozens of shells and was credited with helping sink the Japanese battleship Yamashiro.
The California and the other American battleships weren’t even hit during the one-sided battle.
“You could see, out on the horizon, Japanese ships that were burning,” he said. “There were quite a few. That was a big victory you don’t hear much about at all.”
Kreimes and other anti-aircraft gunners fought off Japanese air attacks, but on Jan. 6, a kamikaze Japanese suicide bomber got through, flying a plane that hit the California, killing 44 and wounding 155.
“He hit us 20 foot above my head, up in the superstructure, which killed my division officer,” Kreimes said. “If he had come the other way, I wouldn’t be talking to you.”
After the war, Kreimes came home, completed his high school degree and worked a variety of jobs, eventually founding Bob Kreimes Construction. The company, now run by Kreimes’ son “Rob” Kreimes, is finishing work on a new Dollar General store on U.S. 6 near Rye Beach Road.
Kreimes married the former Toni Elfers. The couple have been married 64 years. They have two children and three grandchildren.
Kreimes said at age 88, “I keep busy. I’m in good shape.”
He’s well aware that veterans with his firsthand memories of World War II are becoming scarcer.
“You don’t run into too many guys my age anymore,” he said. “These younger guys, they don’t know much about it.”