Another Pacific Historic Parks (2014) booklet focuses on "A True American: The Story of a Pearl Harbor Survivor, World War II, Korean and Vietnam War Veteran." Here are ten insights in a remarkable life of a member of the "Greatest Generation" narrated by Sterling R. Cale to his son Sterling V. Cale.
1. Medical: Cale served as a Pharmacist's Mate, forerunner to Navy Hospital Corpsman. Early in his career he passed out during a circumcision when the patient, supposedly anesthetized, started screaming. He thought of himself first as a farm boy from Illinois, but he had dreams of one day becoming a surgeon, dreams that were cut short later in life when he injured his thumb.
2. Dec. 7, 1941: Cale worked the night shift at the Pearl Harbor naval dispensary, a shift that ended in the morning of Dec. 7. He walked outside to witness Japanese planes attacking Battleship Row. He broke into the armory and helped hand out Springfield rifles to fellow Sailors.
|Cale salutes during a wreath presentation in 2010.|
4. Recovery: After the attack, he was assigned – along with 10 other men – to "ride out to the USS Arizona and start recovering bodies." Cale climbed into a heavy suit and diver's helmet, something out of Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." His description of what he finds beneath the surface is disturbing and haunting.
5. Risk: Cale took risks. He was written up for breaking into the armory (even though Pearl Harbor was under attack). And he was court-martialed (but cleared) for keeping a war diary. " I meticulously recorded the precise location of every item and body part" to help with identification. He eventually earned commendation instead of condemnation; luckily, common sense would trump military bureaucracy.
6. Action: During World War II he served with the 1st Marine Division at Guadalcanal, then saw action at Saipan, Tinian, Bougainville and Espiritu Sato, later serving aboard USS Panang (AG 41), named for "the U.S. gunboat that had been sunk [by Imperial Japan's military] in Chinese waters."
7. Love: Sterling Cale met beautiful Victoria Vienna Ventula in Honolulu in 1941. They courted, married and started a family. "We managed to live with two children on my $21 monthly military salary," he said. Cale shares poignant family photos in the booklet.
|Marines in Korea.|
9. Vietnam: Like the war itself, Cale's involvement in Vietnam was complicated. It started in 1955 and continued through the 60s, with assignments that included military advisor, intelligence, logistics, medic and hospital administrator. Cale briefly discusses his work in Da Nang and support missions to the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
|With Naval Academy Women's Glee Club aboard USS Arizona Memorial, 2012.|
This booklet offers other interesting tidbits about Sterling Cale's life: as an orphan, working with the Tom Mix circus, book binding and repair at the public library, musician (trumpet and drums), Eagle Scout, Navy "frogman" training, partying with "gold hair" tobacco heiress Doris Duke Cromwell aboard her yacht, and serving as NCOIC of the honor guard and burial detail at Punchbowl National Cemetery of the Pacific.
Thanks, once again, to YNCM (ret.) Jim Taylor, Pearl Harbor Survivors Liaison and honorary USS Utah Survivor, for recommending this read. See a related Navy Reads post about another PHVC volunteer, Uncle Herb Weatherwax: "From Street Gang to WWII Veteran."