MY DAD, JOHN O KVALTINE, A WWII VETERAN OF THE U.S. NAVY
My dad, John O. Kvaltine, was born on August 10, 1924 and spent his entire life, up until recently, in the home his father built in 1929. Upon graduation from high school he worked for a local company. However, when the war broke out he and his best friend, my Uncle Paul, joined the U.S. Navy under the buddy system. My dad entered the Navy on June 2, 1942 and was honorably discharged on February 18, 1946.
I never spent much time asking my dad about the war until recently. See, my dad is currently residing in an assisted living facility in Vestal, NY. He is sharp as a tack and told me that he had wished he kept a diary of his time served during WWII but both me and my dad are attempting to trace his activity in his fight for freedom.
My dad completed his basic training in Newport, R.I. He was then transferred to the Navy school in Richmond, Va. After Navy school, he was assigned to one of the first LST ships (#337) located in Norfolk, Va. which set out for the island of Bermuda. My dad explained to me that during WWII, the Navy had only approximately 750,000 recruits. Bermuda played an important and active role during the war where numerous ships set out to sea headed for the Mediterranean.
The LST my dad was on was a support ship for amphibious operations by carrying tanks, vehicles, cargo and landing troops directly onto shore where there were no docks or piers. After leaving Bermuda, my dad’s LST cruised the Atlantic meeting up with approximately 50 ships to include destroyers and mine sweepers, etc. The LST then set out through the Straits of Gibraltar headed to the Mediterranean. There was no air coverage for this ship which made it an extremely dangerous mission. The first stop was North Africa which was controlled by the Germans. The Navy’s mission was to have the allied forces take control of the Suez Canal which was a strategic point for shipping navigation. The next stop was South Africa where the forces of Mussolini had been defeated. Then came the allied invasion of Sicily called Operation Husky. One of the first ships near the island was the LST #337 which my dad was on. The purpose of his mission was to secure the beachhead and bring in the troops and equipment which was accomplished after the mine sweepers cleared the area. My dad was awarded one of four European African M.E. stars for his involvement. The allied invasion was one of the most important campaigns of the war driving Italy from the war. My dad’s LST then remained near the city of Gela providing supplies, equipment and support for the troops.
The next stop on the campaign was the Army Battle of Monte Cassino (known as the Battle for Rome). The purpose was to break through Rome which ultimately resulted in an allied victory but at a high cost of allied lives. This was one of the bloodiest and longest engagements of the Italian campaign. The Germans had a stronghold there. They, the Germans, had an observation post which enabled them to control the air space and bomb England so this battle was an important stronghold for the allies. My dad’s ship supplied the necessary equipment, supplies and troops for the campaign.
After the Germans and Italians were conquered in Rome, the allies were stalemated near the English Channel for a while in order not to destroy the Vatican. My dad’s LST was busy in the area hauling troops, equipment and supplies back and forth. The Germans kept attacking the allied convoys. During that time, air cover was being provided by Great Britain to protect the allied convoys.
The LST then remained in the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean providing supplies and equipment. Two attempts were made to “trick” the enemy so as to clear the way through the English Channel. According to my dad a diamond was painted on his ship so that the allied forces would not mistake his ship for an enemy ship.
A pilot took over the ship as it traveled through the English Channel. A smoke screen was laid to hide the ship. During that time, the Germans had developed a pilot-less aircraft to fly over the Channel. Bombs were exploded; however, the Germans were being careful not to be too aggressive so as to give away their positions. The Germans also had submarines in the Channel. My dad’s ship stayed anchored in the Channel for a few days. While anchored in the Channel he could see the lights of Spain on the horizon. Spain was neutral. After pulling up anchor in a few days, the LST headed toward Utah Beach.
Then came D-Day. My dad’s LST landed near Utah Beach. The mission was hindered by bad weather, high seas and dangerous cliffs. The para troopers landed at night and unfortunately many lives were lost. A number of para troopers were tangled up in their chutes. Mine sweepers were needed to clear the way for the LST which carried the needed supplies and equipment for the troops. This was a difficult campaign since, according to my dad, most of the Navy’s carriers were assigned to the Pacific. After D-Day, the LST remained in the vicinity for months bringing in supplies and equipment and troops. Before leaving the Utah Beach location, my dad’s shipmates were ordered to position the pontoons and equipment for the next allied ship to come in.
The LST then headed toward Egypt in route to the Suez Canal. However, according to my dad, the LST suffered some mechanical problems; was decommissioned and transferred to the Royal Navy. The Americans were then transferred to the lle de France, an ocean liner owned by the French which was converted to a transport ship. The lle de France transported the American soldiers, to include many casualties of war, back through the English Chanel headed to the States to a receiving station in the Boston harbor. The troops were then granted a 30 day R&R before traveling by troop train to a receiving point in San Diego. My dad then boarded the USS Stratford in San Diego headed for the Pacific campaign.
The USS Stratford was responsible for delivering military personnel and equipment to ships in the Pacific war zone. The transport remained in the Pacific until 1945. The ship stopped at various ports of call in its transport efforts shuttling troops and cargo from rear areas to advance bases. There were numerous air raids; however, the enemy was mostly seeking to destroy the aircraft carriers. The USS Strafford ultimately was headed toward Tokyo Bay. According to my dad, due to the topography of Tokyo Bay, (50 miles wide) no war ships could get through. The Japanese had built numerous tunnels at Tokyo Bay to control water levels so ships could get through. Waterways were mined and mine sweepers had to clear the way for the transport ships. The Japanese planned to flood the tunnels and “drown the allied forces like rats”. Fortunately the war had come to an end with the bombing of Japan and my dad’s ship was safe.
My dad’s ship remained at sea and eventually headed back to a receiving station in California. Under the remarks section of my dad’s separation from the U.S. Navy is the following “Point System”, Victory Medal, American Campaign, European North Africa M.E. 4 Stars, Asiatic Pacific.
My dad, not only fought for freedom for us all during his tenure with the Navy during WWII, but also ensured the safety and well-being of the community he was born and raised in, Binghamton, New York. Upon his honorable discharge from the Navy, my father applied and was hired as a City of Binghamton firefighter. He spent 38 years on the force. I remember watching my dad enter into burning buildings to save lives. Although he never spoke of the many dangerous situations he was faced with, first and foremost his main objective was to keep everyone safe.
My dad is a great father was a great husband to my mom who died suddenly in 2015. Were it not for her death, they would have been married 72 years. Both my brother and I are thankful for the encouragement my dad always gave us. Education was important to him thus both my brother and I graduated from college and enjoyed successful careers. Thank you dad.
Joanne Melodayo, daughter of John O. Kvaltine
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