Nov. 6, 2006

Compton spent more than three hours in the water after his ship sank during WWII

By Cullen Schultz
Staff Writer

Spending more than three hours in the water following the sinking of his ship, Roger Compton of Delano served his country honorably during World War II in the Pacific Theater.

He spent time in well-known places such as Pearl Harbor, Guadal Canal, Guam, and Ulithi, doing his part to help end the bloodiest conflict in history.

Compton was born in his family’s farm house, south of Dassel, and moved to Delano when he was six. He stayed in Delano until he finished the eighth grade, working in Delano for a bit, before deciding he wanted to move to the west coast.

After Christmas that year, he went to Fargo, N.D., and was planning to take the Great Northern Railway west to Seattle, but it was too cold to work his way west at that time.

Compton decided to take the southern route instead, and traveled to Omaha. He worked at the Salvation Army for three weeks earning money to afford the trip.

When he arrived in Washington, Compton took a job with the Union Pacific Railway, as a messenger.

In July 1943, Compton joined the Navy, feeling it was the right thing to do, he said, adding that he had just turned 17.

“The war was on, it was the thing to do back then,” Compton said.

He was sent to boot camp at Camp Farragut, Idaho. From there, he went to the Navy Radio School in Madison, Wis. The school took place at the University of Wisconsin campus, and he spent 20 weeks in training, leaving with a rank of Seamen First Class Radio Operator.

From there he was sent to Fort Pierce, Fla. for amphibious training, and then to Solomon, Md. for LCT training, where he learned about the LCT, and how to read markers and buoys.

A LCT, landing craft tank, was used by the Navy to transport troops, equipment, and supplies to the amphibious battlefields, such as beaches.

After training in Maryland, the servicemen went to New York City and got their first LCT, which came in three parts the crew had to assemble. When they finished, they went to sea, traveling down the coast to Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia.

Their voyage wasn’t exactly smooth; en route they were hit by a storm, and traveled past Norfolk. On their attempt to enter the harbor, Compton and the crew were stopped by the Coast Guard, and to their surprise they entered a mine field that was established outside of the harbor.

Luckily for them, the LCT is designed especially for its hull not to be deep in the water, so it can land troops and equipment on the beaches, and they didn’t hit any of the mines.

“We didn’t know there were mines out there,” Compton said with a laugh.

At Norfolk, they dissembled the LCT, put it on a merchant ship and in May 1944, traveled to Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal. Compton worked as the radio operator on the trip, which would be his role in the war.

Arriving at Pearl Harbor, Compton noticed the work being done.

“They were busy fixing things and buildings,” Compton said.

Almost three years earlier, Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese surprise-attacked Pearl Harbor with 351 planes, launched in two waves, from aircraft carriers.

The attack killed 2,403 Americans, and damaged or sunk 21 of the 90 ships anchored, most notability, the battleship USS Arizona.

Compton spent six weeks at Pearl Harbor, including his 18th birthday, training and preparing for war.

After Pearl Harbor, Compton proceeded to train, by making practice landings at Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal was captured from the Japanese in February the previous year.

“We made mock landings, unloading our tanks,” Compton said.

In September of the same year, Compton took part in the invasion force to attack the Palau Islands. His ship landed tanks for the battle known as “Bloody Nose Ridge” because of the 50 percent causalty rate the Marines took during the battle.

Compton recalled that the Japanese were entrenched in a mountainous area. The area was pounded with battleship fire, tank fire, flamethrowers, and when that subsided, the Marines charged and eventually, took the mountain.

“We could see the battleships Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois out in the horizon, then see a puff of smoke, a little while later hear it go by. The area was just rubble when they were done,” Compton said.

After the Palau Islands, Compton was stationed for nine months on the island of Ulithi. Ulithi served as a primary naval base for the United States Navy in the Pacific, having the perfect dimensions to harbor naval ships. The Navy would use the base to get provisions, launch invasions, and to get rest and relaxation.The Navy’s third, fifth, and seventh fleets all came to Ulithi.

“It was like a mesa in the middle of the ocean,” Compton said.

Compton kept busy, transporting supplies and personnel from island to island.

A typhoon strikes his ship

A day Compton will never forget is Oct. 3, 1944, when a typhoon hit the island, causing Compton’s ship to sink. He spent more than three hours in the water, before being rescued by a merchant ship.

“You could see the ship sitting on the bottom, before the wave came back down,” Compton recalled.

Since the ship sank in shallow water, they were able to salvage it, and bring it back into service shortly after.

At Ulithi, he also witnessed a Japanese kamikaze bombing – Japanese pilots flying their planes into a target, on a pocket aircraft carrier.

After Ulithi, Compton followed a destroyer escort 500 miles to Guam, spending seven months there. Guam was a key island for the US, having three different airfields, which supported the B-29 bombers that attacked the Japanese homeland.

“You could see B-29 bombers taking off at night, there was a steady flow of hundreds of them, and then they would come back during the day,” Compton said.

Even though Guam was captured from the Japanese in August 1944, there were still holdouts. Compton explained that it was pretty safe on the island, and the Japanese that were still there never killed anyone, but just stole food and such, to stay alive.

‘Some of them were still holding out three or four years after the war,” Compton said.

During his time at Guam, Compton was offered a radio operator position on the battleship, USS Missouri. This happened when Compton’s ship was coming up to the Missouri, and they were using blinker lights to communicate.

Compton was so fast and accurate; the blinker light operator on the Missouri couldn’t keep up. Wanting the best communication operators, an officer from the Missouri came to Compton wanting him to join the crew, explaining to him that he was too fast for the champion signalman of the US Navy.

“I put him to shame,” Compton said with a smile.

Compton declined the offer, and stayed with his ship and crew, stating that he only had a few months left until he was discharged, and if he joined a battleship, he would be out to sea for a lot longer time.

Compton was stationed at Guam when the news of the Japanese surrender arrived.

“Everyone had a sense of relief, and everyone wanted to go home,” Compton said.

He was transported back to the US by an aircraft carrier and arriving in February 1946.

After arriving in the US, he was stationed in Long Beach, decommissioning ships, until his discharge in July 1947.

He came back to Minnesota in ‘48, where he worked at Honeywell, and had various other jobs. He moved back to California in 1966, where he started two new businesses, Compton Woodchop, building nest boxes for bird breeders, and Compton Feed Shop.

In 1983, he moved to Fort Walton, Fla., where he worked for a contractor for a number of years, before moving back to Delano in 1991.

Compton is currently living in Delano, helping take care of his 102-year-old mother, Janet.

“I have been taking care of mom,” Compton said.

All-and-all Seamen First Class Radio Operator Roger Compton spent four years in the US Navy, and 21 months in the South Pacific Theater.

He has been all over the United States and the Pacific helping end the bloodiest conflict in history, and by being one of the brave servicemen of the military, helped bring peace to a war ravaged world.

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