When you interview military veterans, it’s helpful to create a timeline of their training, assignments and experiences. The information comes from their own memories, training certificates they’ve kept, their discharge papers and other documents. You should go over the stuff with them, because paperwork doesn’t always tell the truth.
Beyond ordering events, the details give you the sweep of their lives and service.
I did that for my story on a Navy veteran of World War II that ran yesterday, Veterans Day, in The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, my former longtime employer.
The veteran is Allentown native Jim “Ace” Gallagher, who was a turret gunner on Avenger torpedo bombers in the Pacific. He is ninety-seven. I met him in August at a picnic marking the anniversary of V-J Day. He’d brought a photo album and told me about a training accident that killed his buddy, the radioman on Gallagher’s plane, and how he still grieves for him. I was hooked. The anecdote became the heart of Gallagher’s account, which appeared as part of my War Stories in Their Own Words series.
Here’s the timeline I developed while interviewing Gallagher over several visits:
June 1925: Born in Allentown.
Spring 1942: Graduates from Allentown High School. The yearbook, the Comus, describes him as “enthusiastic and persistent in all he undertakes.”
May 10, 1943: Enters active service in Navy. Boot camp is at the Naval Training Station at Sampson, New York.
November 20, 1943: Completes aviation ordnanceman course at Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee.
January 15, 1944: Completes Naval Air Gunners School in Hollywood, Florida.
January 16, 1944: Starts operational training at Opa-Locka, Florida, one of three fields at Naval Air Station Miami. (The others were Miami Municipal and Master Field.) Goes on first plane ride, in a twin-engine Beechcraft.
April 17, 1944: Completes operational training at Opa-Locka, winning combat aircrewman wings.
June 1944: Turns nineteen.
October 5, 1944: Night Carrier Air Group 91 is formed at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. Gallagher is assigned to a night torpedo squadron there, VT(N)-91, which flies Avengers.
Late 1944 into 1945: Trains at Naval Base Key West at Boca Chica, Florida. On a night practice mission where radioman Eddie Fisher flies in Gallagher’s place, Avenger crashes into the sea and Fisher is killed. After training, Gallagher is sent to San Diego.
February 27, 1945: Night Torpedo Squadron 91 sails for Hawaii on the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound.
March 6, 1945: Norton Sound arrives at Oahu. Gallagher reports to Naval Air Station Barbers Point.
May 22, 1945: Night Torpedo Squadron 91 boards Essex-class carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. Within a month, Gallagher’s pilot is kicked off squadron. Gallagher’s Avenger crew takes United Fruit liner to Saipan, joins Carrier Aircraft Service Unit 7 to support naval aircraft operations.
June 1945: Gallagher turns twenty.
August 14, 1945: Japan surrenders.
April 1, 1946: Gallagher is honorably discharged from the Navy at Bremerton, Washington, as an aviation ordnanceman third class.