Valdosta Daily Times

January 28, 2013

Lake Park veteran recalls World War II

Service aboard aircraft carrier meant struggle for life, liberty

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

LAKE PARK — Hubert Warmack, 87, still chatters and moves around the house with animation, though he suffers from ankle problems and uses hearing aids. His eyes may be a little fuzzy, but his memory is still sharp, especially when he recalls his time in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Warmack, now an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, joined at the age of 17, with the permission and signature of his father, on April 30, 1943, and was assigned to the U.S.S. Wasp, a CV-18 aircraft carrier. Going into the service, he signed up for the duration of the war.

Warmack and his shipmates, a complement of 333 officers and 2,700 total personnel, ferried soldiers to England to fight in the European theater, shipped supplies through the Strait of Gibraltar to service bases in Italy, and saw intense action fighting against Japanese air squadrons and naval fleets in the Pacific theater.

As a storekeeper and pointer on the five-inch anti-aircraft gun (the largest on deck), Warmack saw 10 battles against the Japanese, and experienced all the horrible sights and smells of war. He watched the flag raised at Iwo Jima and the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, saw his ship nearly torn to pieces by bombs and survived a typhoon on the way back home.

“One day, as a group in the Mariana Islands, we shot down 500 Japanese planes in one day,” Warmack said about himself and the crew. “That was a long day. It was during the time when the Japanese were really major. They pretty much ruled the Pacific, and Americans were just building ships.”

Tactics often proved advantageous during wartime, Warmack said. He remembers his fleet breaking up into smaller fleets and shifting formation to hide their numbers and identities.

“We didn’t want the same bunch of ships to be seen in the same formation because they would know it was the same one,” Warmack said. “We would dissolve and have different ships escorting us, so it would appear to be a different body altogether. We did a lot of sneaky work through the night to mask our position, to confuse them and make them think we had more ships.”

Battle during the night was confusing and haunting. The dead and disembodied limbs floated in the water and hung from battle stations aboard their vessel, explosions illuminated the darkness in flashes, and the Japanese sometimes attempted to land on the carrier, thinking it was their own.

“Every night, as long as you were in range of Japanese planes, they came out and tried to catch you and drop bombs on you,” Warmack said. “We had our planes sinking ships and sinking other aircraft carriers.”

At Iwo Jima, Warmack remembers watching the famous team of Marines lift the American flag up on the hill, but they took it down and replaced it with a larger flag for a photo op - the famous image now immortalized as a memorial statue.

“We put up a little three-by-five, and they said it wasn’t big enough, then re-enacted it the second time,” Warmack said. “The statue that you see is a re-enactment.”

Off the coast of Japan, under heavy fire, Warmack and his shipmates watched a B-29 drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

“It was red, black, white, it was big and billowing, and then all of a sudden, the mushroom was so big, the plane was hidden,” Warmack said. “There are few people in America that witnessed the dropping of the bomb.”

It was a terrible thing that killed thousands of people in a terrible way, Warmack said, but it was necessary to win the war. Were it not for the atom bombs, the Japanese would have continued fighting and killing more Americans. From this perspective, the bomb actually saved lives, he said.

After Japan surrendered, the carrier’s journey was still far from over. Warmack watched in horror as his ship battled against the waves of a typhoon, worried that the Wasp, already heavily damaged from its many battles, would break apart.

“We had to go right through it,” Warmack said. “One day, we wound up five miles farther back than when we’d started. The ship was 876 feet in length, and there would be three ocean waves along it. One in the front, one in the middle, and one in the back. The destroyers would go completely under the water and then pop back up like a cork.”

But the ship survived, and made its first home port in Bremerton, Wash. Then it traveled through the Panama Canal to the other side of the nation, to port in Boston.

Warmack was asked to re-enlist after he was discharged in 1946, but he decided to go back to school instead. He attended Florida State University to earn a degree in business administration, and worked for 34 years in Valdosta at the paper mill.