Some World War II veterans will willingly talk about their service, but for many years, William Kohler was not among them.
"My dad has kept a low profile all of these years about his military career and actually only began speaking about it in 2011," said Stow resident Charlene Antalek, his daughter. "That was a difficult time for him; he didn't like to think about it. So he's finally been interested, since 2011, in showing his great-grandchildren his uniforms and talking about his stories. He comes up with a different story every time he sees one of the great-grandkids."
Kohler, 92, a Navy veteran who now lives in Erie, Pa., is one of more than 60 veterans who will be honored as part of the third annual Stow-Munroe Falls Armed Forces Banner Program. Antalek said that her father's change of heart about talking about his service was a reason why she decided to purchase the banner.
Still, she said, he does not boast about his service, never taking part in parades for example, and was not told about the banner in advance because he would have "said no."
"I think he wanted to put the war behind him, but the war keeps coming up now that he's older, his stories. So I guess, we just wanted to honor him," she said.
'My patriotism got the best of me'
Kohler served in the Navy from February 1943 to February 1946. He was a gunner's mate on the destroyer U.S.S. Albert W. Grant DD-649. He earned the Pacific Theatre ribbon (four stars), the American Theatre ribbon, the Victory medal, the World War II medal and the Philippine Liberation medal (one star).
As a crew member of the Albert W. Grant during the Battle for Leyte Gulf in October 1944, he earned the Navy Unit Commendation ribbon.
After the war, he became a tool and die maker, rising to plant manager by the time of his retirement at 65.
Kohler wrote about his military service, which was typed up by his wife Rosemarie Murphy-Kohler, who died in 2013 after 67 years of marriage. Here is a portion of it, shared by Anatek:
"The kamikaze pilots were always coming at us. They would fly parallel to the water and stay deck high until they were shot down or they hit a ship. We were forbidden to shoot at them because at the height they were gliding by, we would also be shooting at other U.S. ships. It was weird to see their calm faces just staring at us...
"Another dark and moonless night I will remember was when we discharged U.S. rangers onto Suluan Island in the Philippines. These guys are the real heroes. Just a few guys going onto an island full of [Japanese] defenders, and blowing up their radio towers and other defenses, then getting back alive. God Bless them...
"All those months out there, bombarding beaches, shooting at enemy planes, thinking of home and then 'Tokyo Rose' names your ship that will be the next one to be attacked, maybe even mentioning one of the crew's name, it's a good thing we had such a great bunch of guys on board to lean in each other.
"Speaking of 'lean on,' you should have been with me and about 10 others inside the 5-inch mount on the fantail during a typhoon in the Philippines. If we had rolled over, we never would have gotten the dogs [locks] unlatched to swim for it.
"I believe it was 4:00 in the morning of the 24th day of October when we sailed into the Surigao Strait to sink the enemy or be sunk. This is one night and morning I will never forget. This is some 63 years later and it feels like yesterday.
"I was gun captain of the twin 40mm gun on the port side of the bridge, which made me uneasy in all of our encounters with the enemy. You know they are all trying to knock out the bridge command and our crew is right under them out in the open.
"As we approached the Japanese task force my first loader pleaded with me to crouch down with him to hide from harm but I felt I had to stay with my gun. About this time, all hell broke loose with shells flying overhead, splatting into the water and exploding all around us, fire burning from exploding 40mm ammunition in the ready racks at the starboard side twin 40. It seemed like forever and then suddenly all was quiet and we were dead in the water.
"My first reaction was what can I do to help, are we sinking? Just then the signalman came down off the bridge and said, 'There's a ship,' and grabbed a signal gun off the bulkhead. As he signaled for help, he realized the batteries were dead and threw the gun onto the deck in dismay. We were glad for the dead batteries because just then a [Japanese] ship cruised by with all their sailors standing by watching us burn and explode.
"After this episode, I turned back to my gun and removed my helmet and headphones. (They were dead anyway) and there was my first loader kind of scrunched up and not moving. He had been cut in half by a large shell or something.
"About a minute later, I observed a shiny object laying at the bottom of the gun. It was a 6-inch projectile from one of our cruisers. I picked it up, it was still hot and turned it end over end. To my surprise, it was stamped U.S. Navy ordnance. I showed it to a couple of sailors and then threw it over the side before it exploded.
"I believe our ship made the final 'crossing the T' formation that was a well documented naval maneuver from the beginning of naval engagement. This whole battle is well documented much better than I can write, but this was my part of it.
"After our return to Pearl Harbor and then finally to Mare Island, California where we were granted a 30-day leave. I accepted a transfer to electric/hydraulic school in San Diego. This wasn't too smart, because from there I was sent back to the Philippines and landed on an island with 1,000 other gunner's mates in preparation for the invasion of Japan.
"I am thankful for the atomic bomb that ended the war, or I am sure I and thousands of others wouldn't be here after seeing the ferocity of the Japanese defenders of the islands we were involved in invading..."
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