Thursday, January 21, 2016

So, Maybe Dad Did Get to Okinawa

When I took up the Fonkert history five or six weeks ago, I thought it would be just a two or three week tour -- something easy to blog about over the holidays. Well, I've got at least one more story to tell before I go on to some other strange family like the Tidballs or Zorgdragers. (Yes, those are real family names).

Sometimes family history researchers know the least about the ancestors they think they know the best. We usually know who our parents are and where they came from, so we don't spend much of our research time on them. I know my Dad was in the army during World War II, but he never seemed to want to talk about it. I also know that most 20th-century military personnel records were lost in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, so I figured my chances of finding anything were slim, anyway.

I do have a vague memory of Dad saying he had been in Okinawa, and I have some old black and white snapshots that look like they could have come from that part of the world. Of course, I can't find them now.  I could also swear I remember seeing a record somewhere (quite recently, somewhere in my files) that states he served on a hospital ship as a chaplain's assistant, but now can't lay my hands on it, either.  So, let's start with what I have.

First I have a copy of his honorable discharge filed at the Sioux County, Iowa, courthouse.  It gives his serial number and states he was discharged as a technical sergeant from "Ship Complement 9222nd Transportation Unit in the Army Transportation Corps." His occupational specialty number was NCO 502 -- an administrative job title. He served outside the U.S. on the SS Marine Flasher -- he was on a ship! He had received the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal -- perhaps he really was on Okinawa.

He was discharged at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, but I think he might have come ashore at Seattle, where he met my mother (see January 14 post). His World War II bonus application states that he departed on foreign service 7 August 1945 -- the day after Hiroshima. He returned from foreign service 26 March 1946.

So, what was the SS Marine Flasher? It was a Type C-4 ship, the largest ships built by the United State Maritime Commission during World War II. It was built in Vancouver, Washington, and delivered for troopship service in August 1945, just after V-J Day,* which means it was a shiny new ship when Dad boarded. It is better known for its service after the wear carrying Holocaust survivors and displaced persons from Europe to New York. However, it did have a short military resume. One source states that the Marine Flasher sailed from San Francisco for Okinawa in late September and returned to Seattle in time to depart for Inchon (Korea) and Shanghai. The Marine Flasher returned to Seattle in March and was on its way to Europe by April.**

I don't know if Dad was on both trips. I certainly had no clue that he might have been in Korea or China (even if just anchored in harbor). I am now wondering if the National Personnel Center might be able to tell me more. While actual personnel files were lost in the fire, the Center is able to reconstruct some records from records of military units. I think it might be worth a try.

* Japan surrendered 15 August, but the surrender was not announced in the U.S. until 2 September, when it is officially recognized.
** "The Story of the S.S. Marine Flasher," http://thekesslers.como/family/tibor/Marine_Flasher.html, accessed 11 January 2016. A newspaper story says the Marine Flasher was due in Los Angeles xxxx, 1946 with more than 3,200 passengers. Pittsburgh Press, 11 February 1946, p. 2, and other papers (

1 comment:

  1. I have seen this picture and have always been curious about Grandpa's war experiences. Please keep digging!