Vet recalls the good, the unusual and the horrible

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
U.S. Navy veteran Michael Salcone, 93, of Warren shows a photo of the ship he served on during World War II.

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple U.S. Navy veteran Michael Salcone, 93, of Warren shows a photo of the ship he served on during World War II.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series published every Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.

WARREN — Michael Salcone will never forget his experiences during World War II: the good, the unusual and the horrible.

Salcone, 93, who worked four decades as a manager for Kroger Co., was drafted into the U.S. Navy in 1943 when he was 20. He fought in battles on the Pacific Ocean on the USS St. Louis, on which he served as a fire controlman, from 1944-46.

Salcone never left Warren prior to being drafted, but when Uncle Sam called, he soon found himself at Great Lakes Naval Station in Michigan.

“You accept it as part of your obligation,” he said. “Like everyone else, I accepted it. It was our duty to go.”

Salcone said he knew he’d play a part in World War II after graduating from Warren G. Harding High School in 1943, and he hoped to serve in the U.S. Air Force, but that’s not where he wound up.

“I told them I wanted to be in the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic,” he said. “They said ‘Well, get in this line right here.’ And that line was the Navy line.”

After basic training, Salcone was sent to California. The trip was memorable, he said, because the trains in Chicago were state-of-the-art for the time, but the further west he traveled the older they got. When he arrived in Shoemaker, Calif., it was very cold and the mess hall was closed.

“It was late at night and we were all hungry,” he said. “They gave us shredded carrots with raisins.”

From there Salcone was sent to Long Beach, Calif., where he boarded the USS St. Louis. Salcone’s first stop was Pago Pago for fueling. He remembers island natives diving into deep crystal clear water to retrieve quarters thrown in by sailors.

There are things that stand out in Salcone’s mind about the battles he fought in the Pacific — spending eight months in the bulkhead of a ship hearing enemy torpedoes and seeing the dead. He fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was the largest naval battle of World War II.

Salcone recalled seeing a Japanese pilot parachute out of his plane and being shot out of the air. Another Japanese pilot crashed on Salcone’s ship, died and a Catholic priest on board was cursed by an officer for performing last rites.

“I really felt bad, I really did,” he said of the Japanese pilot while holding back tears. “He must of had a wife and a couple of kids. But that’s war. What are you going to do?”

When Salcone arrived home, he got off a train and walked home in uniform carrying his bag. No one met him and no one offered him a ride, but he was thankful to be home.

“War is horrible,” he said. “I hope it never happens again.”

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