By Troy Burgess
I was born in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, in 1924. When my father's cotton farm went bust in 1937, he moved our whole family to California to look for work.
My mother passed away that same year. We wandered about the state like so many other Dust Bowl survivors. After December 7, 1941, my lifestyle would change forever. Within three weeks, I enlisted in the United States Navy. My hard-working father sent me off to war with this statement of sage advice, "Stay tough and never let another man see you cry."
After basic training in Eureka and Monterey, California, my first duty assignment was to stand sentry duty at night aboard a yacht owned by the Hollywood movie star, Joel McCray, whose yacht had been taken over for navy use. I was well armed for the assignment. I carried a Thompson submachine gun under one arm and packed a 45-caliber pistol in my belt. For some reason, neither weapon had any bullets.
When the opportunity came up, I volunteered for real sea duty. I was a Boatswain 2nd Class in the United States Navy where I was assigned to the light cruiser, USS Boise, where I remained for the duration of World War II.
I would see plenty of action aboard the Boise in both theaters of war. In the Mediterranean, we took part in the invasion of Italy. The Boise's job was to help "soften" the German line of defense ahead of our advancing troops. As the German and Italian forces pulled farther and farther inland, the Boise's guns could no longer reach far enough inland to be of any effect so we were recalled to the Pacific War.
The Boise participated in many pre-invasion attacks and logistics operations in the Pacific. We traveled to New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines at Leyte Gulf and Sergoya Straights, and Borneo.
The battles on the open sea were by far the most harrowing of our experience aboard ship. During the Battle of Sergoya Straight, our attack fleet suffered 52 air attacks including bombings, strafing, torpedoes and even Kamikaze attacks. Twenty-one of our ships were hit that day. The Boise escaped harm. I came to believe the claim that there are never any atheists left aboard a ship after an attack at sea.
My most memorable experience of the war, however, was my very first battle at sea. We were involved in the famous battle of Cape Esperance off the Solomon Islands. I was still only 17 years old at the time.