On Sunday I had the honor of sitting with and speaking to Gene Dale in his home here in El Dorado Springs. Gene was born in 1925 and graduated from ElDo High in 1943. He first attempted to enlist in the Navy, but it wasn’t until he was drafted that the Navy accepted him. Why did Gene choose the Navy? Well, he is flatfooted and the Army and Marine Corps couldn’t take him. When he was drafted, he gladly went to serve our country during a time of war.

Gene’s first assignment was to US Navy Boot Camp in Farragut, Idaho. After spending eight weeks at Boot Camp he was transferred to Gunner’s Mate school at Treasure Island in California. This school lasted about 10 weeks and he became a Gunner’s Mate Seaman First Class, E3 in today’s military. Upon completion of this school, Gene was transferred to the USS Phoenix CL-46, reporting aboard at Pearl Harbor. The Pheonix was assigned to the Navy’s Seventh Fleet and was the flagship of this fleet.

As a Gunner’s Mate, he was assigned to maintain and repair all of Pheonix’s guns. His primary duties were with the ship’s quad-40mm gun mounts. While Gene was onboard none of the Phoenix’s guns jammed or couldn’t be fired when required. Gene was recognized for his expertise and promoted to Gunner’s Mate Third Class Petty Officer, E4.

Gene saw action throughout the South Pacific on the Phoenix mainly supporting General MacArthur as he progressed toward the Philippines. Included were such momentous actions like the Battle of Hollandia, the amphibious Battle of Biak, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the Battle of Surigao Strait where she is credited with sinking the “unsinkable” Japanese battleship, Yamashiro. During Leyte Gulf, she was attacked by Japanese kamikazes and other aircraft.

Gene was awarded three Purple Hearts for wounds received in the South Pacific. He didn’t tell his mother about his wounds. Why? He didn’t want her to worry any more than she did.

After the war ended, the Phoenix sailed back to the West Coast and Gene was discharged in time to be home for Christmas in 1945. While other states gave their returning soldiers, sailors, and marines some bonuses, Missouri didn’t even extend a thank you to our young men and women.

He was employed by REA, Sac-Osage, as a lineman and superintendent for 35 years and joined the American Legion and VFW where he was an active member.

I asked Gene what made “the Greatest Generation” so special. “I didn’t know my generation was special,” was his reply. And, what was the biggest this he gained from his service? Pride.

It was an honor and a privilege for me to spend almost two hours with this 97-year-old Navy Veteran and listen to his stories and share his pride. I’m humbled to be able to share even a little of his story as we look to observe Veterans’ Day this week.

In the picture, Gene is the man at the top and he and his shipmates have spotted an aircraft and are attempting to identify it as either American or Japanese during the invasion of the Philippine island of Mindoro.

David Bozarth