Friends fought their way across Pacific
PAULETTE PERHACH Posted: Monday,
March 12, 2007 ; Updated: 6:00 AM on
Monday, March 12, 2007
WWII veterans Gordon
Walck, 89, seated, and
Charlie Usina 82, pose
in Walck's St. Augustine
Shores home. By DARON
Walck, 89, and Charlie Usina, 82, both of
St. Augustine, remember each other from
their time more than 60 years ago on the USS
San Francisco as sailors of the 9,950-ton,
588-feet-long heavy cruiser.
knew each other. You struck up relationships
as shipmates," said Usina. "We had a good
crew of Americans."
boarded first, in time for the Pearl Harbor
attack that brought the United States into
World War II.
scared. We didn't have anywhere to hide,"
said the former Seaman 1st class.
ship had little ammunition on board. Though
the ship was nearly defenseless, it
sustained little damage.
that attack, it went on to play key roles in
the battles of Midway and Cape Esperance.
worked as the repairman on board. He
remembers those battles from a frightening
position: a tiny windowless room. In the
pump room, where Walck made sure the pumps
were running and there was freshwater
throughout the ship, "all you could do was
look at the four walls and hope nothing
comes in," he said.
Battle of Guadalcanal, the USS San Francisco
was not so lucky. It received extensive
damage, and 77 of Walck's shipmates were
lost and 105 injured. The ship received the
Presidential Unit Citation for its actions
was drafted in 1944 and became a fireman
first class on the ship.
Together the men fought through the Pacific.
were all over the Pacific," said Usina.
those battles blend after so many years. But
the men remember little things.
most devastating thing Usina said he saw was
a Japanese POW hospital where they used
Americans for medical research.
was just the most sickening thing," he said.
the greatest things he saw was the flag
raised at Iwo Jima.
San Francisco earned 17 battlestars in the
men remember one battle that had nothing to
do with the enemy. Starting on Dec. 17,
1944, a typhoon started rocking the ship.
Then the waves grew until the men felt like
they were on a toy boat in the hands of a
toddler at bath time.
bridge of the ship was 71 feet above water,"
said Usina. "The waves were breaking over
rode out the storm for two days, then, on
Dec. 19, the crew helped search for
survivors from three destroyers that sunk
during the typhoon.
was a rough one," said Walck.
left the ship that year, but Usina stayed on
until the war ended. He worked in the A
division, converting sea water into potable
was discharged on Feb. 5, 1946.
learned to respect the 13 stripes and the 48
stars. That's what we were defending," said
Usina. "We would not allow Japan to destroy
that flag that was American."
returned to the land his family has owned
for generations in St. Johns County to farm
potatoes and run a ranch.
leaving the military, Walck went back to his
home state of Pennsylvania and did sheet
metal work at Bethlehem Steel. When he
retired, he and his wife, Dorothy, moved to
St. Augustine. She died several years ago.
point, five veterans from the USS San
Francisco lived in the county, according to
Usina, but the other three have passed away.
The ship has had its reunion here twice.