AVON - Wallace "Wally" Pence was part of a U.S. Navy crew that were saved by a fisherman in the Pacific Ocean after it abandoned ship on the way to provide support to other vessels during World War II. , but that didn't keep the sailors from helping keep the war efforts afloat after they were saved by a fisherman in the Pacific Ocean.
Because of the war, Pence didn't think he'd live to age 30 — but at age of 99, he well vividly remembers the time when the USS Holland, a freighter and support ship, was returning to the San Francisco Bay Area from a training exercise in Honolulu. In the pitch dark of the night, water started coming into a loose part of the ship near the sleeping quarters. About 100 sailors had to jumped overboard, and were left floating in the oil-filled waters before the fisherman came to their rescued them. and made a distress call. The men were pulled out of the water, no one was injured, and the Navy’s Submarine Division’s 41st Training Unit later sailed off to war forwardon another ship, off to war leaving the Holland behindto be repaired.
The Lakewood native and 1938 Lakewood High School graduate had enlisted in the Navy soon after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. so he could do his part to help defend the country During his four years in the service, he went from basic training at the Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois, then on to San Diego and San Francisco before serving in Guam until just after the war ended in 1945.
He knows how lucky he is to have made it through the Pacific theater pretty much unscathed. A Petty Officer 1st Class, Pence was a torpedo tender, placing torpedoes on other vessels and in fire control (artillery) on a submarine — a relic from World War I. He also helped repair parts of other ships.
On Veterans Day on Monday, Pence will enjoy a brunch and participate in an honor service for veterans at Rose Senior Living in Avon, where he lives. It is among a number of local Veterans Day events
Pence's wife, Virginia, his high school sweetheart whom he married in February 1942, initially worked at the commissary at the training station in Illinois during the war. She later inspected rivets at the Cleveland Bomber Plant, known as the Cleveland Tank Plant. It’s now the I-X Center.
Surrounded by family photos, scrapbooks and his Navy uniform were service medals hanging on the wall in the cozy confines of his home, Pence said.
"I didn't think the war would last that long,” Pence said. “During our training, the ships and planes would sometimes play "tag" with each other — we would do combat or strategic shooting drills, but we wouldn't actually shoot each other. We did it more for maneuverability purposes."
Besides checking the gauges and meters on the subs and other ships that stopped by his submarine for repairs and maintenance, Pence sometimes monitored a "torpedo placement computer" and pumped fuel into other ships.
"I inspected and repaired things in the Navy," he said. "The ship I served on basically was a factory. The doors to our quarters were like bank vaults — they had to be waterproof in case we got hit and the sub sank."
Submarine living quarters were tight, he said.
"We slept in hammocks above the torpedoes," Pence said. "Sometimes a guy sleeping on the higher hammock would roll over, fall out and knock down the other men below him. We'd all wind up on the floor, and have to get up and climb back into bed."
The submarine was a sitting duck in the Pacific when it was off the coast of Guam. Pence said it was just "dumb luck" that his crew never encountered live combat.
"I didn't see any Japanese soldiers until near the end of the war," he said. "You would see them being escorted onto a ship with their arms above them as a prisoner of war."
After returning home, Pence briefly worked in the purchasing department of Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio). He retired from Machine Tool Systems.
Pence has two daughters and a son, five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. HIs wife died in 2013.
Around the house, Pence's tool area was known as "Wally's Workshop," said his youngest daughter, Janet Eby.
"Dad could fix everything," Eby said. "He always was the handyman.”
Among the items in one of Pence's scrapbooks is a submarine operating manual, which was classified information at the time. A photo on the wall shows him with his high school sweetheart in 1941, soon after he joined the service whom he later married. Included among the six medals on his Navy uniform are the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the World War II American Defense Medal, the Pacific Victory Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Medal.
Last year Pence and his son, Jim, went to Washington, D.C., on an honor flight. The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization that takes veterans to tour the monuments at no charge. This past summer, Pence cut the ribbon to kick off the Avon Bike Parade on July 4 and received a proclamation from Mayor Bryan Jensen for his 99th birthday on Aug. 22.
"I was very lucky to have made it through the war, and to have done all I have," Pence said.
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