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World War II veteran reflects on service

W.D. Jarrett, of Columbus, was a 20-year-old carpenter’s mate 3rd Class in the U.S. Navy when he participated in the capture of a U-505 German submarine on June 4, 1944.

For his involvement in this major event in history, which took place off French West Africa, Jarrett as well as the other members of Anti-Submarine Task Force 22.3 were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

A force 16 million strong went to war in 1941. More than 400,000 of those troops did not make it home. The men who did survive the war are now dying at a rate of approximately 800 a day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Census bureau estimates for fiscal year 2010, which began Oct. 1, show there are about 2 million living U.S. veterans of WWII.

Veterans Day, which the nation celebrates today, was created to honor service members like Jarrett. Originally known as Armistice Day, Nov. 11 has been recognized as Veterans Day since 1954. The day honors the men and women who have served America in all wars.

Jarrett joined the Navy in October 1942 at age 18. Following his training, he was assigned to a destroyer escort called the USS Pope. The USS Pope worked with the USS Pillsbury, USS Flaherty, USS Chatelain and USS Jenks under the auspices of the aircraft carrier USS Guadalcanal. Together these vessels patrolled the high seas — from the east coast of the United States to Western Europe — trolling for enemy submarine.

Jarrett said it wasn’t the adventure he’d dreamed it would be.

“We didn’t have much fun,” said Jarrett, 85. “There was no fun nowhere then.”

The morning U-505 was captured, the USS Chatelain picked up an object on its sonar, according to a written synopsis of the event on the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Web site. At the time of the discovery, the task group, which was running low on fuel, was en route to Casablanca following a fruitless and frustrating patrol.

“A lot of times it would be a dry run. The sonar might pick up a big fish or something,” Jarrett said. “And then they assigned general quarters ... and told you when to fire.”

The USS Chatelain deployed its depth charges, hitting the enemy submarine and sending geysers of salt water into the air. Six and a half minutes later, the U-boat surfaced, its rudder jammed, its lights and electricity disabled and its compartments rapidly taking on water. The ship’s commanding officer ordered his men to abandon ship.

Fifty-eight prisoners were plucked from the water that day. One man had been killed during the action and three were wounded.

A boarding crew consisting of eight men climbed aboard the sinking submarine and set about collecting charts, code books and papers. They also closed valves, plugged leaks and disconnected demolition charges in preparation for towing.

Jarrett said his commander gave his crew strict orders not to talk about the capture when they docked in New York days later.

“The commander of the whole thing said, ‘Keep your mouths shut and your bowels open,’” Jarrett laughed. “It was a secret. We wasn’t even supposed to open our mouths about the thing.”

The POWs from U-505 were taken to Ruston, La., where they were interned in a special isolation prison camp. Their capture was kept secret, which meant no one reported their status to the Red Cross.

As a result, the German Navy assumed the boat was lost at sea and reported the crew member’s deaths to their families.

The captured U-boat was placed on display in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in September 1954. In 1989, the U-505, as the only Type IX-C boat still in existence, was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Jarrett left the Navy in 1946, but he looks back on his service and in particular the events of June 4, 1944, with immense pride.

“We thought we done a good job,” Jarrett said.

Due to inclement weather, the Veterans Day celebration and Lonnie Jackson Memorial Dedication will be held at Wynnton Hill Baptist Church, 2620 Buena Vista Road at 10:30 a.m.

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