The Portsmouth Daily Times’ publication of the stories of the heroes (don’t let them hear you call them that) of World War II has covered those who man the guns on the big ships to soften the landing for the ground troops; the infantryman fighting in the deserts of North Africa, the mountains of Europe and the jungles of the Pacific islands; the pilots and crews of fighter planes and bombers; the tank driver and his crew; the truck driver; the medics; the surgeons...
Today’s story deals with a man who drove the landing craft that disgorged the fighting troops onto the beaches of the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, Okinawa and a host of other Pacific jungle islands that all run together in his mind now, 65 years later.
Harold Delotell, 85, of New Boston, was a coxswain in the U.S. Navy. It was the coxswain who drove the boats that carried troops and tanks and guns to the beachhead.
They had a ramp at the front which was dropped for the vehicles and men to get ashore.
Delotell, who spent 29 months in the Pacific as part of the Seventh Fleet, sat at the controls behind a shield that would stop most bullets but not all.
The Seventh Fleet was attached to the South West Pacific area during the war under the control of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. In fact, they were known as “MacArthur’s Navy.”
The amphibious forces carried out a series of assaults from Goodenough Island to Sansapor on the northern side of New Guinea. They went up through New Guinea, New Britain, the Admiralties and on to the Philippines with many landing operations.
“I don’t remember how many landings I was in on,” Delotell said in an interview at his home last week. “Of course, that wasn’t all we did. We carried supplies back and forth. We chipped paint and put paint back on. We kept busy while waiting for the next invasion.
“It fascinated me to drive those landing craft. We had twin engines and a machinist standing by in case of engine trouble. We had two 30mm guns mounted on either side of me and two gunners to man them. We had a bowman to lower and raise the unloading ramp.”
Delotell was never wounded, although there was one trip in to the beach that he thought might be his last.
“Our warships always shelled the beach and jungle before we took soldiers or Marines in, but the Japanese were in some cases entrenched in concrete pill boxes or caves and more that ready for a fight when our boys went ashore. This one time, I don’t remember which island, they ran the Marines back to the beachhead, and we had to go back in and pick them up. There were bullets hitting the water all around. We wound up with holes in the ship.”
Delotell said he finally came to realize why it was that a bullet or mortar never found him.
“I had a Godly mother who prayed for me every day. I really believe it was those prayers that kept me, that brought me home safe,” he said.
Ships Delotell served on included the USS Sumpter, the Heywood, the Ashland, the Casa Grande and the Kent Island, an AG 78 used to bring American troops back home from the Pacific after Japan surrendered in August 1945.
He had enlisted in the Navy Jan. 20, 1943. He was discharged Feb. 6, 1946.
His awards include the Asiatic-Pacific medal with five stars, the WW2 Victory Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal with two stars, and the Good Conduct Medal.
He returned to New Boston and married Betty Worrell. They had been married 59 years when she died in 2004.
They have two daughters, Kathy and Kay, a son, Tim, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
One grandson, Nick Delotell, a member of a National Guard unit headquartered in Columbus, is back home after serving nearly a year in Iraq.
Harold Delotell worked for 40 years as an engineer in the cab of an N&W Railroad locomotive.
He and others who served in World War II have been called a unique brand of warrior, one who let nothing stand in the way of the march to victory.
According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, about 900 World War II veterans die every day.
Like most other combat veterans of that war, Delotell said all he did was his duty.
“We couldn’t hardly wait to get over there and do what we had to do,” he said. “If you love your family and you love your country, there’s nothing you won’t do to make it safe for them.”
He said nothing angered him more than the ruling that it’s OK to burn the American flag.
“A lot of us fought for that flag, and I saw a lot of men die for it. And then they say it’s alright to burn it? I can’t understand that.”
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.