Vet prepped subs in PhilippinesDoust began his service aboard the U.S.S. Anthedon WORTHINGTON — Eighty-three-year-old George Doust and his wife Doris are newlyweds.
WORTHINGTON — Eighty-three-year-old George Doust and his wife Doris are newlyweds.
The couple began as wartime pen pals, a common practice at the time.
“While I was in boot camp, a fella gave me an address of a young lady in Worthington,” Doust explained. “So we became pen pals and 61 years later we got married.”
The years in between include George’s adventures as a radio operator and submarine relief crew member in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
Doust began high school in Grand Rapids, but his father’s involvement in wartime construction sent the family first to Idaho and then to Klamath Falls, Ore., where Doust graduated in 1944.
Just a few months after his 17th birthday a friend suggested he join the war effort.
“A buddy of mine in school says ‘Hey George, let’s go down and join the Navy,’” he said. “And I said ‘OK, nothing better to do today’”
He attended radio operator school in San Diego — “I basically learned how to sit and copy Morse code hour after hour,” he remembered, and toward the end of his training, Doust was faced with two options: volunteer for submarine duty or be assigned to amphibious forces.
Having no desire to become a Marine, he began submarine school in Connecticut in January 1945.
“It was a lot of classwork; we had to learn to draw the diagrams of all the plumbing and everything on the submarine, almost from memory,” he said. The trainees also participated in training drills.
“We went on several tours from Groton, Conn., into the Atlantic for one-day trips to learn how to go through all the things they show on movies. Like when they say ‘Dive and clear the bridge’ — well, it’s really the other way around. You’ve got about 35 seconds to be down inside and have the hatches closed.”
Toward the end of the war, Doust estimated that submarine crews were submerged for 30 to 45 days, but earlier in the war effort sailors could be underwater for as long as three months. The experience took a psychological toll that not everyone could tolerate.
“I guess I was too dumb to be scared,” he said with a hearty laugh.
“I don’t think that,” Doris interjected with a smile. “He’d try anything.”
Next up for the adventurous Doust was a train ride to Mare Island Naval Shipyard near San Francisco.
“On the way we had kind of an interesting experience: We were on the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe Railroad, and in those days the Santa Fe did not have dining cars, so we got to stop and eat along the way by ‘The Harvey Girls,’” he said, referring to the 1946 film staring Judy Garland — though the actor was not among those in attendance.
From San Francisco, he boarded a ship headed for “the beautiful south seas,” joining a convoy to Samar, Philippines, on the way.
“We spent a couple weeks there, which was primitive to say the least.” he said of the rainy country. “But it was handy: If you needed a shower you just grabbed your soap and stepped outside.”
His crew then hopped aboard another ship bound for Manila Harbor and took a landing craft north to Subic Bay.
“The sub tender unit had been in Australia, but about that time (the admiral) decided to move the unit to the Philippines,” Doust explained. “So that’s why we made the dip south and then headed north.”
He began his service aboard the U.S.S. Anthedon, working on the relief crew for submarine division 261.
“When a sub would come in off patrol the crew would go up to the rest area and we would take over the submarine and get it ready for the next patrol — everything from mundane things like scraping paint to loading ammunition and torpedoes and groceries.”
Though relatively small in number, the submarine force played an important role in the conflict: though less than 2 percent of Navy officers served in that area, more than 51 percent of enemy ships were sunk by submarines.
After the war, Doust was transferred to the shore base in Subic Bay.
“They put me in security and handed me a rifle and I’d never even seen one before. Fortunately, the only thing I ever shot at was a black panther, and I just scared it instead of hitting it so that took care of that,” he laughed.
He was put in charge of the base’s telephone switchboard and then assigned to the radio shack.
“I made the mistake of letting the communications officer find out that that I knew how to run the coding machine, so after that I got the dubious honor of doing the work of the coding officer,” he said. “That was interesting—you get to find out all kinds of things you weren’t supposed to know.”
Doust was discharged as a seaman first class in June of 1946 and began work in logging equipment maintenance — but not before visiting his friend Doris.
“A lot of the men, it wasn’t that they were in love with you or anything but they wanted mail,” Doris said of their correspondence. “(Mail) was the only thing that connected them with home and friends.”
In an incredible coincidence, Doris accompanied some friends to George’s high school reunion in the ‘90s. The couple was married in 2005.
“She chased me for 60 years, but she caught me,” he joked.
They both had their own families in the meantime: Doust has three children in Oregon and one in California; Doris has three sons in Omaha, Neb.
Doust, who takes the same “Why not?” attitude about his upcoming Honor Flight experience as he did with his decision to join the Navy, looks back on his wartime duties with a little twinkle in his eye.
“I could come up with a lot of sea stories,” He said with a little chuckle. “Like I tell Doris, it’s a blend of poor memory and a good imagination.
“All the time I look back and think I had a guardian angel on my shoulder.”