Willard O’Rear, Lewis A. McAtee

Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.

Willard O’Rear
Date of birth: Oct. 26, 1926
Dates of Service: November 1944 to July 1946
Hometown: Ranchvale
Theater and location of service: South Pacific
Branch: Navy
Unit and specialty: Landing ship tank, radio man
After discharge: Ranchvale

In his words: The ship O’Rear was assigned too frequently ferried equipment. On one such occasion there was a tractor on deck. “It was a ‘Popping Johnny’” — a two-cylinder diesel tractor. O’Rear and his buddies got the tractor started, relishing the sounds of home, until the captain heard the loud engine running and demanded it be shut off.

Delivering a load of equipment to Japan following the surrender, O’Rear was able to take a walking tour of Tokyo.

“It looked like a shanty town” he said with everything burned out from the fire bombings. “The only thing standing was the Emperor’s palace.”

During their tour, some little children approached them, crawling out from under some burnt rubble. O’Rear and his companions had some chewing gum on them and gladly shared it

O’Rear describes the devastation of Japan and the Philippines as “pretty bad.”

Lewis A. McAtee
Date of birth: May 9, 1928
Dates of Service: Sept. 8, 1943 to April 20, 1947
Hometown: Kincade, Kan.
Lives in: Tucumcari
Theater or location of service: South Pacific
Unit and specialty: 3 Aircraft carriers DB6, Task Force 58 USS White Plains CVE66, USS Gambier Bay, CVE83, USS CVE Shipley Bay. Aviation Machinist Mate 3rd class, Turret Gunner.
Branch: Navy
Rank: 3rd Class Petty Officer, Aviation Machinist Mate 3rd class.
After discharge: Topeka, Kan.
Veterans organizations: American Legion of Logan Chapter 77

In his own words: A little “Carter’s Ink Eradicator,” some creative lettering and $5 for a photostatic copy was all that was needed for 15-year-old McAtee to transform into a 17-year-old Navy volunteer. His mother, a divorcee at the time, helped him and signed her consent. According to McAtee, his mother knew full well what he was doing, “she figured I wouldn’t be a problem for her anymore”.

There were three boys, all friends, who altered their birth certificates at the same time to gain entry into the Navy, but McAtee was the youngest of the group and in the end, the only one who came home. One of the boys was killed on the USS California and the other was on a submarine that disappeared, never heard from again.

Training as an Aviation Machinist, McAtee was selected from his class to serve as an Aerial Gunner on a TBF Avenger. George Bush Sr. flew on the same type of plane in roughly the same area, he learned years later.

The Avenger’s tiny crew was made up of three: a radioman, the pilot and a turret gunner — McAtee. He recalls the radioman was only a year older than him, the 23-year-old pilot the oldest on the crew.

Primarily they flew sub patrols and combat missions, bombing ahead of the Marines, strafing, using Napalm and 500 LB bombs to clear the way for their advance.

Napalm, more often associated with the Vietnam war, was very effective as McAtee tells it: “We dropped them (Napalm bombs) by the thousands. They were fuel tanks with a detonator attached to the latch. When it hit it would go off, burning everything it stuck to.”

Suicide bombers or “kamikazes” were a huge problem, because these avoided engagements with all other ships and planes, and instead aimed for the carriers to maximize damage. McAtee’s crew shot down three kamikaze planes.

On one occasion, while assigned to the USS Gambier Bay, their ship was sunk while they were in the air and they were diverted to a different carrier to land. Most of the men were in the air when it happened, but 53 men lost their lives, “we lost our personal belongings and our friends”.

In many ways, it was youth that made it possible for McAtee to do his job without compunction, he believes.

“The younger, the better. They liked the younger ones cause they never questioned what they were told. If they said ‘jump’ you’d say ‘how high’.”

Older men had a different view of their mortality, particularly the married ones with families back home, McAtee explains.
“The older guys seemed a lot more scared than we were. Older men who were married would pay us to take their four-hour missions for them. They paid $20, I did a few of them.”

World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail:
sharna_johnson@link.freedom.com