Night at the Kitchen Table: Warren Dickerson comes home from war
Forty years ago, Warren Dickerson of Bobtown, now 60 years old, was in the Navy and stationed at Great Lakes, Ill. His family was living in Florida and he decided to surprise his parents with a weekend leave.
It turned out to be a fortuitous visit because Dickerson’s father, a Navy veteran, never spoke of his experiences during World War II.
But on this night in February 1972, the two sat down and talked. What follows is the final installment in a series that recounts that conversation, a conversation Dickerson refers to as The Night at the Kitchen Table.
Warren Harding Dickerson stands next to a new 1948 Buick Super 8 convertible after returning home to Philadelphia.
When the war ended in August 1945, there were millions of servicemen around the world that needed to be returned to the U.S. The task of returning them home was given to the Navy. All of the servicemen wanted to be home for Christmas.
The method used to determine who would return first was determined by a point system. Points were given for the amount of time a servicemen served in a theater of combat, and for the actions that they participated in during that time. You needed to have at least 60 points to be considered for this program. If you had more than 60 points you were given higher placement. If you had less than 60 points, it was going to be a long time before you received an assignment to go home to the U.S.
Dad had 74 points and was scheduled to be among the first to go home, but it did not work out that way. Toward the end of the war, the Japanese had abandoned hundreds of thousands of their soldiers on islands across the Pacific.
Japan did not have the ships and resources to bring their soldiers home. This task was given to the U.S. Navy. The only ships that were suited for this task were the LST’s. When the war ended dad said that he was very happy at first, because he had a lot of points and would be going home. He then found out that his LST was being sent out to the far flung Pacific Islands to pick up abandoned Japanese soldiers. He said that he was very angry with this assignment, as sailors with fewer points than he had were going home, while he was being sent back to sea. He didn’t like it, but he knew he had to do it.
For the next two months their LST went from island to island picking up enemy soldiers. He said it was difficult to show compassion to the Japanese when they came on board the ship. The memories of battle were still fresh in the minds of the sailors and Marines on board. He said that all the Japanese had were the loincloths that they were wearing. All were starving. A great number of them would not come out of the jungle as they thought the war was still going on, and that the Americans were trying to trick them into surrender.
Dad said that the Japanese that stayed behind would later die on their island as they (U.S. Navy) would not be coming back again. This process went on for two months. The prisoners were taken to Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, for further processing. Ulithi Atoll was a major Navy base during the last year of the war.
At the end of their two month assignment the sailors were ready to go home. It was not to be. The ship was ordered once more to go out to the islands and pick up Japanese soldiers. Dad said they came very close to staging a mutiny. All of the sailors were extremely angry. Again, sailors with fewer points were being sent home, while they were being sent back out to sea.
Dad said that the morale on the ship was very bad. The sailors began fighting with one another. The second deployment lasted about a month.When he got back to their base at Ulithi Atoll he finally got his orders to go home. He would not make it home for Christmas. He received orders to ship home on board the USS New Jersey, an Iowa Class battleship.
They departed Ulithi Atoll with 1,000 sailors who were getting a ride back to the U.S. The program to get the servicemen home was called “Operation Magic Carpet.” He said that he was lucky to be assigned a standard bunk, because he was able to put his souvenir Japanese rifle under his mattress.
The ship sailed to Pearl Harbor to refuel. He said that they really blew off steam while they were in port at Pearl Harbor. From there they sailed to San Francisco. During this time he had nothing to do but relax and sleep.
They arrived in San Francisco on Feb. 10, 1946. He said that one of the most memorable moments of his life was when the “New Jersey” went under the Golden Gate Bridge. He said he knew at that moment that he was finally home.
Later that day, after the ship was tied up to the pier, the sailors that were going home were permitted to leave the ship and go into the city. There were quite a few other ships that made the crossing from Pearl Harbor that also arrived in San Francisco that day. Dad said he and a couple of other sailors went into the city to celebrate and call home.
They went into a large tavern that he said was really nice. There were a lot of servicemen there. After they were there for a while, he thought he would call home. There was one telephone booth with a long line of servicemen waiting to use it. He got in line and waited for his time to use the phone. The sailor that was in the phone booth was talking for a very long time.
Dad said that he left his place in line to go to the phone booth to ask the sailor to hurry up as many servicemen were waiting. When he knocked on the door of the phone booth he got the shock of his life. It was his brother, Richard, who was on the phone, talking to their parents. He had not seen Richard in more than three years. Together they talked to their parents who Dad said were very, very happy.
Richard had arrived in San Francisco aboard one of the other ships that day. To have three sons in the war, (Milton, Dad, and Richard) and to have them all survive without an injury was a miracle.
From San Francisco, Dad traveled home to Philadelphia by train. His ordeal was over.
Editor’s note: Warren Harding Dickerson, the author’s father, died at age 54 in 1977. The younger Dickerson moved from Cape Coral, Fla., to Bobtown in 1996, where he lives with his wife, Jennifer. They have two children, a son and daughter.