Thursday, September 30, 2010

Military Life post World War II

Jack's military life took him to far away remote places including the Mariana Islands (Guam) and the Aleutian Islands (Adak, Alaska). He entered the Navy in August 1946 as a Construction Electrician. He did his basic training in Bainbridge, Maryland, then went on what he called a "troop train" to California. At Port Hueneme in Ventura County, he attended a Radio and Communications school for twelve weeks (the Seabees program described in an earlier post) before boarding a ship for a five day cruise to Hawaii via San Francisco. Although in Hawaii for only one day, this provided enough time for checking out the beach and taking some pictures including the image below of Diamond Head on Oahu Island.
From here, he went on to his first major duty assignment that lasted almost two years - the 103rd NCB (Naval Construction Battalion) in Guam in the South Pacific. He lived in a tent for over a year then upgraded to a "quonset hut" shown below.

August 1946Bainbridge, MDBasic Training
Oct 1946Port Hueneme, CARadio and Communication School
Jan 1947Guam, Mariana Islands
103rd NCB
Duty Assignment 1
Apr 1949Adak, Aleutian IslandsDuty Assignment 2
July 1950Seattle, WADischarge

Even though Jack studied communications in the Port Hueneme training program, he ended up operating a power plant in Guam and later in Alaska as well. Besides the extreme heat, the living conditions in the South Pacific offered unusual and frequent visitors in and around the tents, in Jack's own words: rats the size of tomcats. Although, his service in Guam might have been considered a hardship, his experience in Alaska offered a contrast and clearly a different flavor.
Jack's second major duty assignment while serving in the Navy was in the Aleution Islands at the southern Bering Sea. He was assigned to Adak Island which sits on Kuluk Bay, 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage on the lattitude of Vancouver Island in Canada. It has a population of 320.(source of stats: navy history). Jack may hold the distinction in the Siulinski family to have traveled to the area where man first walked onto the American continent via the Bering Land Bridge. Ages ago, much of the Earth's water supply was locked up in huge ice masses. Eventually the sea level fell exposing vast areas of land formerly under water. A continuous land bridge then stretched between Siberia and Alaska. Most archaeologists agree that it was across this Bering Land Bridge, also called Beringia, that humans first passed from Asia to populate the Americas. Source for the map: worldatlas
Source for the text describing the Bering Land Bridge: PBS
One of the most vivid images that Jack offered during numerous hours of being interviewed for his life story was when he flew over the Aleutian Islands.
"We flew practically to the end of the Aleutian chain.  We were flying a route above the mountaintops, you could see the craters of active mountains [volcanoes]."
Mt Edgecumbe outside of Sitka
Image source: AlaskaPride Blog
While serving in Alaska, possibly brought on by the elements and stress of work, Jack suffered a collapsed lung in June of 1950. While hospitalized in Alaska for diagnosis and observation, the Korean War flared up. He was sent to Seattle on a ship where he was then discharged on July 26, 1950j, and sent back to Maine on a train. Ironically and fortunately, the illness may have prevented a tour of dury in Korea. Unfortunately though, the July discharge in Seattle was processed just one month prior to Jack completing his full tour of duty. HE would later have problems re-enlisting into the Navy Reserves which he tried to do before meeting his future wife. This issue may have also effected Jack not receiving a full disability upon discharge which would have provided living benefits for him and his family during the time of convalescence. Although his condition was later deemed to be  "service-connected", he was only entitled to the medical benefits necessary to treat the condition. These facts made life difficult for a while but he persevered through the time of marriage and a new family. (source: Oct 1952 VA letter from personal archives of Jack Siulinski)

Although Jack did not face combat in his service years, he did serve in the Navy during the time that the World War II Victory Medal was awarded to servicemen.
Endnote: Much of the material for this post was taken from a recorded interview with Jack in 2007. Also, many documents and pictures saved from his military days were used to create the story of his military life beginning in 1946 to the time period after his discharge and  when he met his wife in 1950.