By Jennifer Martin - email
"I grew up in the country on a farm and went into the Navy in 1943." Howard Sessums was 17 years old. "Most young people back then felt it was their duty to go," Sessums said.
After six weeks of communications training, he was assigned to the U.S.S. Bryant.
"The duty of this ship was to escort convoys across the Atlantic Ocean to England," Sessums added.
Sessums served as Signalman.
"If a message came in, I would take it. And I had a person next to me that would take it down, take it to the officer on the deck," Sessums said.
He wouldn't be on the destroyer for long.
"We were hit by a torpedo," Sessums recalled. It came from a German submarine.
"The torpedo hit the stern of the ship, which was the rear and that's where most of your ammunition, depth charges and so forth are stored. And you can imagine what happened. It just exploded," Sessums said. "Fortunately I was on the bridge."
He was cut by flying glass. He'd later receive a Purple Heart.
Sessums and the other survivors climbed down ropes into waiting rescue vessels. After a trip to the hospital, he was assigned to the U.S.S. McCook. It was one of 24 destroyers taking part in the invasion of France.
"Of course, we were Omaha beachhead. Well it was dangerous in the fire from the shore battery of the Germans as well as the mines that were laid in the English Channel," Sessums said.
"I don't know how close we were, but they said we were within 800-1000 feet of the shore," Sessums added.
"It was pretty tough. Because fire was coming from all directions.The battleships and cruisers were firing over us cause we were close to the shore targets. And we were running the coastline, knocking out pillboxes, guns, if we could," Sessums said.
He was hit with shrapnel in the arm and let. His injuries were minor and he kept working.
His next assignment was aboard a submarine in the Pacific: the U.S.S. Parche.
"Our primary duty on a submarine when you were in like the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was one of the biggest battles in the Pacific. What you're doing is picking up survivors, basically Navy pilots if they have to bail out or people that have to abandon ship," Sessums said.
He was still a signalman. But he also had to mount the machine gun every time the sub would surface.
The Parche would serve in several major battles in the pacific from Iwo Jima, to Jima, to Pelilu, to Okinowa. Sessums would stay onboard about a year and a half.
After the war ended, he went home and went to college. He became a high school teacher and coach, then principal and later personnel director at the state Department of Education.
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