Courtesy of the U.S. Navy
The USS Simon B. Buckner carried troops to Europe and the Face East in World War II and the Korean War. It took 16 days out of Seattle, Wash., to reach Korea in 1952, which included a 13-day run to Yokohama, Japan, and another three days to Yokohama to Pusan, Korea. 
Courtesy of the U.S. Navy

The USS Simon B. Buckner carried troops to Europe and the Face East in World War II and the Korean War. It took 16 days out of Seattle, Wash., to reach Korea in 1952, which included a 13-day run to Yokohama, Japan, and another three days to Yokohama to Pusan, Korea. 

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When military veterans from different wars get together the discussions sometimes touch on the variations of weapons, equipment, places served, experiences and other observations of interest. Their stories are colorful and fascinating. Many are humorous.

I enjoyed chatting with veterans from World War I and WWII during my visits at the American Legion and VFW posts in Menominee. Their wars were fought long before I wore khaki in the Korean War (1950-1953). Some of my more memorable moments occurred when I was interviewing WWI and WWII veterans during my years at the Menominee Herald-Leader, Marinette Eagle-Star and later when the two local dailies merged to become the EagleHerald.

Recently, I was a participant in a discussion about troop movement in the military. Practically all of the seniors in the conversation went to their battle stations on troop ships. They compared their days at sea to the hours it now takes to move troops by aircraft. World War I was fought in Europe and troop ships crossed the Atlantic Ocean out of ports in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other locations. In World War II, some troops were at sea for weeks before they reached their stations.

My orders called for me to ship out of Fort Lewis at Seattle, Wash. I don’t recall the exact details on how this storyline unfolded, but I was privileged to have Lt. Robert “Efty” Eftedahl, my neighborhood friend in Menominee, as a transportation officer at Pier 91 at the Seattle Port of Embarkation. We were confined to quarters on the base. Efty came to my barracks late one afternoon and picked me up to have dinner at his apartment. His wife, Jean, prepared the meal. He drove me back to the base in time for bedcheck.

The story doesn’t stop with the one night out. A few days later we marched to the pier where the USS Simon B. Buckner was awaiting to take us to Korea. Lt. Eftedahl met me on the gangplank leading to the ship and accompanied me all the way to my compartment, which was located in the bow of the vessel. Later I spotted him standing on the dock and the ship slowly glided out to sea with a Navy band playing “Anchors Away.” I was overwhelmed with his kindness at an emotional time in my life.

Crossing the Pacific Ocean was filled with undeniable boredom and discomfort. Talks of childhood and school days filled the stuffy compartment we called home. Soldiers read paperbacks and magazines. Some had card games going. We were all in our late teens or early twenties.

We had days and nights of stormy seas. Sea sickness was our biggest enemy. I’ll never forget the day I drew KP and was assigned to a tub of gravy in the chow line. My job was to pour the gravy on the mashed potatoes as the troops filed through the line. I missed more trays than I hit before I was relieved and sent to my compartment suffering from a severe case of sea sickness.

After the sea sickness disappeared two days later, we could go out on the deck for fresh air. As the ship sliced through the sea, it made a splashing sound each time her bow dipped into the ocean. Fear was frozen on our faces as we approached the mammoth harbor at Yokohama, Japan, fully realizing that the next harbor was going to be in South Korea. We were quartered at Camp Drake in Japan for about two weeks where we did our final processing before heading back to the USS Buckner and the three-day jaunt to Pusan. The port was another jumbo-sized harbor from where troops arrived and departed. Equipment and supplies absorbed every inch of space on the storage docks.

We soon learned that the old expression, “above and beyond the call of duty” wasn’t just a phrase, but a call to action. Since America’s birth, each generation of her citizenry has been challenged to bear the price of liberty. Now it was our turn. Fourteen months, plus two Thanksgivings, two Christmases, two New Years and two birthdays later I was back on a ship and returned home. Another long voyage at sea.

The USS Buckner was 600 feet and 11 inches long with a speed capacity of 19 knots. Her troop accommodation peaked at 280 officers and 4,431 enlisted personnel. Her cargo capacity was 100,000 square feet. The ship was originally christened the USS Admiral E.W. Eberle in January 1945. During WWII she served in both the European-Africa-Middle East and Asiatic-Pacific Theaters. The ship was transferred to the U.S. Army Transportation Service in 1946 and renamed the USS Simon B. Buckner. The Buckner was active in the Korean War from July 1950 to July 1954.

The ship was named for Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner who was the overall commander of U.S. ground forces in the Battle of Okinawa. He was observing combat operations of the 8th Marine Regiment when he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese 47 mmm explosive shell.

U.S. troop ships served their country well in wartime, but times change and with change comes faster service. To obtain a comparison between a war in the 1950s and more recent skirmishes in American history I contacted a veteran who served in the Afghanistan War.

Sgt. Amanda Brisette was a soldier in the Army National Guard out of Oshkosh, Wis. She received her basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and underwent specialized training at Fort Gordon, Ga., and at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Sgt. Brisette and her unit then went to Fort Shelby, Miss., and boarded a C-130 aircraft with 124 other soldiers for their journey to Afghanistan. She said the flight took approximately 29 hours, a much different time frame than 13 days to Japan and another three days to Korea.

Her unit was assigned to convoy security, which involved escorting local national trucks moving supplies to other bases in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. Anyone who followed activities in the Afghan War is aware of the danger these soldiers encountered because of the roadside bombs that targeted convoy units.

Sgt. Brisette received an honorable discharge from military service in April 2015, ending an eight-year career in the Army. A native of the Shawano, Wis., area, Amanda worked as a trainee manager for Arby’s before joining the staff at Harbors Retirement Community in Menominee. She spent time as lead housekeeper and now serves as assistant kitchen manager.

“The deployment made me learn and understand how lucky we are to live in the great USA — home of the free and the brave,” she said about her experience in the military.

I find it rewarding and encouraging to exchange story lines with a generation or two of veterans before my generation, and to converse with younger generations and hear their experiences in more recent conflicts.

Tactics and strategies may change from one war to the next, but one thing that never changes is the spirit, fortitude and willingness to sacrifice by the men and women who serve in the military.