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Saluting Bob Townes

By Judy Reed

Each year on Veteran’s Day, we highlight a veteran in the community—someone whose sacrifice might otherwise go unnoticed. This year we salute Bob Townes and his service at the end of World War II.

Buddies Bob Townes, left, and Oscar Goller, right, joined the Navy together in 1946.

Buddies Bob Townes, left, and Oscar Goller, right, joined the Navy together in 1946.

Bob joined the Navy in February of 1946, with his good friend Oscar Goller, now deceased. “I was a junior in high school,” he said. “Six of us were supposed to go, but the others chickened out.”

Bob and Oscar went to boot camp together and were on the same ship together, but not in the same company.

Boot camp was at Williamsburg, Virginia. “It was unreal,” he said, recalling tar-paper shacks and pot belly stoves.

From there they traveled cross-country on a train to Shumaker, California, and then headed out on the famous USS Curtiss AV-4 to Guam.

The Curtiss was a seaplane tender in the United States Navy. It was commissioned in 1940 and decommissioned in 1957. She had an illustrious duty history including surviving the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and a kamikaze hit in 1945. The Curtiss received seven battle stars for World War II service. She was also involved in the Korean action and played a major roll in the Pacific Atomic Testing projects.

According to a history of the ship, she was a large ship, with a complement of 1,000, and was 527 feet long. She was anchored at Pearl City on the other side of Ford Island on Dec. 7, 1941, when all ships were alerted that a Japanese submarine was in the harbor. At 8:36 the Curtiss sighted a periscope about 700 feet away and opened fire. The midget submarine fired on the Curtiss and missed. In less than another half-hour an enemy dive bomber, crippled by anti-aircraft gunfire, dove into one of Curtiss’ big topside cranes and exploded, causing minor damage. A number of Japanese planes made dive bombing attacks on the seaplane tender, causing damage. However, the blazes were soon extinguished, and Curtiss was completely repaired in a little over a month. About 20 of her men were killed by these Japanese attacks.

Bob Townes on the USS   Curtiss AV-4.

Bob Townes on the USS Curtiss AV-4.

While Bob didn’t see any of that kind of action, he says his time in the service and at sea was quite an experience. He had had typing and bookkeeping experience, and was put to work in the pay office. “I had a super job,” he remarked.

But the images he saw in Hiroshimo and Tokyo after it was bombed have never left him. “I saw just what was left. It was pretty bad,” he recalled.

While in Okinawa, there were some bombs that floated into the harbor. “We did blow up quite a few mines,” he remembered. “For a kid, it was really something else.”

Bob noted that the ship was also in charge of atomic experiments. “Some of our guys got radiation poisoning,” he said.

When the ship came back to the U.S. they were put in drydock. Bob left the Navy in November 1947 before the Curtiss headed back out to sea.

Bob said that on November 2, 1947, he had the privilege of seeing the famous “Spruce Goose” fly. The flying boat plane prototype had been proposed as a means so safely move troops and materials across the Atlantic during World War II. At the end of World War II, the project, headed up by Howard Hughes, was criticized and a senate investigation committee looked into misappropriation of funds. Hughes was determined to show that his plane could fly, and Bob was on hand at Long Beach that day to see it perform. “It did fly. I saw it,” he said. (Read more about it at www.sprucegoose.org.)

Bob continued serving others after he came back to Cedar Springs. He served on the fire department for 51-1/2 years, and retired about 10 years ago. He worked at Michigan Wheel for 38 years, and retired from there about 20 years ago. He now spends his winters in Florida.

Bob is grateful to those who are currently serving and making a difference, as he did 63 years ago. “I’m glad you are willing to serve,” he said. “We are proud of you and your devotion to duty.”

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