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Memoirs of a MM/2
Frank Ballek

    I enlisted in the Navy right after my 18th birthday. (Pearl Harbor was bombed on my 17th birthday). I went to boot camp in Northern Idaho in Jan. and Feb. 1943, then I went to a machinist school (for DE's) in Syracuse, NY. I went to Bay City, Michigan, to go aboard the USS Rich. There were 16 of us sailors aboard when the yard workman steamed it to Chicago. In Lockport, IL, they installed tanks under the sides of the ship to get it higher in the water. A river boat pushed us down the Mississippi to New Orleans. It took 15 days to make it down the river!

    The crew came aboard and we went to sea and I was sea sick for five days in the #2 Fireroom standing watch on the distilling plant. When we were sailing from Bermuda to Boston we dropped depth charges and bent the starboard screw shaft. We were in Boston for a couple of weeks getting that repaired. I remember we went to the Panama Canal and I went on liberty with John Clark MM2/C. He stopped a cab and told the driver we wanted to go to the place where we could get those big hamburgers for $.10 so off we went. He took us to a cat house but we couldn't find any hamburgers there, in fact, we could not find anything there for $.10!!!. In the early part of 1944 John Clark left our ship to go to school for six months. He met a gal there and married her one week before he came back for our last trip to Ireland. He was killed when our ship went down and his wife only had her husband for one week.

    After we made our trips overseas and were in Londonderry, I thought that we were the only DE from our unit but it seems that the USS Bates was there too. (Note-Blessman also). The night the USS Meredith was sunk I heard what sounded like a torpedo passing the starboard side of the ship and then I felt the explosion that hit the Meredith but I see the books say she hit a mine.

    When our ship (USS Rich) was hit I was in the #2 Fireroom taking care of the distilling plant. I remember two explosions and the lights went out two times. How I got out of the fireroom I'll never know but I remember being on the port side amidships and looked back and saw the stern of the ship was gone. Ten days later I came to in an Army hospital in Cardiff, Wales. After I was better I met a soldier named Joe Bedick and he said we were in a hospital in Southampton and that we had beds next to each other and they were getting us mixed up because of our names (Balleck & Bedick). I'm so glad he told me that because when they released me from the second hospital the papers said I was received there on the 18th of June so I would have been at a loss to know where I was from the 8th to the 18th. 

    I was released from the hospital near the end of June and went to Plymouth where I was the 49th man to arrive there from the USS Rich, two more came after me. 51 Rich survivors went to Scotland to get aboard the Queen Mary. But, we didn't go so we were taken to Bristol. England, and we sailed to Boston on a sea plane tender called the "Able Mabel". We arrived in Boston July the 14th, 1944 and I was dressed in Army clothes. We received new Navy gear and were given a 30 day survivors' leave.

    I was sent to Charleston, SC, and went aboard the USS Kinzer APD 91 which was built as DE232 with 5" guns but converted before it was in commission. We went through the Canal and into the Pacific to the Philippines, then to Okinawa and back to the States when the war ended.

    We went back to sea again in September 1945, to the Philippines, then to French Indo China. Then went to Chenwangtow, China, (where the Great Wall of China comes down to the sea) for months. I left the ship there and came home for discharge. I arrived in Sheridan, WY, May 1st, 1946.

    When I was home on my survivors' leave, I received letters from the mothers of Raymond Benjamin MMs/C and Calvin Martin Fl/c asking if I had any information about their loved ones. I also received three letters from the wife of Leonard Ferraro EM 1/c. She wanted to know where his battle station was and if he suffered before he passed away. I wrote her that his station was in the gyro room in the bottom of the forward part of the ship and that he never suffered for one second.

    I stayed in the Navy Reserve and I was called back into the Navy in 1951, was put aboard the USS Norton Sound and served 1 1/2 years during the Korean War. My rate when I was called back was MML 1/c so they changed it to MMR 1/c (the R was for refrigeration). My gang took care of the refrigeration and air conditioning aboard the ship. It was the best duty I ever had in the Navy! When I got out of the Navy in 1953 I took over a refrigeration company and have been running it for over 40 years. I am semi-retired now and my wife and I go polka dancing in most of the western states in our motor home. We had six children so now we are enjoying life a little!

    I'll never forget what William Cody EM 2/c told us young sailors when we went into the invasion. He said he felt sorry for us young men going in to get our fannies blown off and that we had never even been in bed with a woman but he said "I have done everything everyway it can be done and I'm ready to die". He is listed as one of the men who never made it. He said he had also served on BB USS Wyoming.

    My wife, Nina, and I are looking forward to the reunion in June of 1996 and it will be the first time I have been to the East Coast since WWII. Looking forward to seeing all of my old shipmates.

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