Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

Lying to enlist in World War II began 15-year-old's long journey

Like millions of Americans during World War II, James Carroll considered himself a patriotic person.

One day, after hearing a particularly impassioned speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he decided to go to the local post office and enlist in the Navy.

They wouldn't take him. You're only 15, the recruiter reminded Carroll.

So Carroll went home and tried to change the birthday on his birth certificate and his ration book and made a mess of it. Then he found a notary public who would give him an affidavit saying he was born in 1925 — which made him 17 years old.

So at 15, while still in the 10th grade and without telling his parents, James Elwood Carroll joined the U.S. Navy and went to war.

∂ ∂ ∂

All these years later, at age 87, Carroll — who is still close to his enlistment height and weight, albeit with less and grayer hair — said he can't really explain why he wanted to leave home so badly. There was no falling out with his parents or his six sisters or older brother. No problems at his Chester, Pa., high school. He just wanted to get into the war.

His mother accepted his decision, although she later wrote a series of unsuccessful letters to FDR about her son being only 15. "My father worked the night shift," Carroll recalled. "He didn't miss me for a week."

Luckily, Carroll — at 5 feet 10 and 130 pounds — wasn't the smallest recruit in boot camp. No one ever asked his age but being away from home for the first time at 15 was nonetheless a rite of passage Carroll wasn't fully ready for.

"I cried every night," he said.

And, in the mornings, when everyone shaved in the latrine, Carroll — not even old enough to have facial hair — lathered up and "shaved" with a safety razor that had no blade.

Once through boot camp, he trained as a pharmacist's mate. He learned first aid and basic nursing skills. He learned how to apply field dressings and how to suture wounds. Shipped to Brisbane, Australia, Carroll awaited his first assignment. On shore leaves, he said he sipped Coca-Colas while all the other sailors drank beer and flirted with the girls.

At last, he was assigned to a ship: LST-120. (LST stands for "Landing Ship, Tank" but a more accurate phrase would have been "Large Slow Targets," according to many of the soldiers who served on the boats made to land battle-ready tanks and soldiers directly onto enemy beaches.) Carroll's job was to tend to the onboard injuries or illnesses of the ship's seven officers and 104 enlisted men. He had little to do, he said, since everyone was young, fit and fed well.

The first action he saw was the Battle of Saipan in 1944.

Carroll was in the first wave to go ashore, assigned to take care of the radioman and the beachmaster, the officer in charge of directing the landing.

As he stepped onto the beach, Carroll said, he saw the radioman and beachmaster on the ground, arms frantically trying to dig holes in the sand.

"I thought it was kind of funny. At 15, you're invincible. I didn't understand what they were doing — until the first bullets went by my head.

"Then I was down with them about 30 seconds later, trying to dig a hole in the sand."

They all survived the attack.

∂ ∂ ∂

Carroll, who walks easily with a cane despite being a bit bent by age, sits on his waterside patio and talks about his life from the time he enlisted. He consults a thick folder of notes and printouts, just to be sure the dates are correct. Like so many veterans of combat, he doesn't like to talk about what he saw or did.

"I was compassionate," he said. "I did the best I could.

"You don't think about it."

LST-120 was stationed offshore during the Saipan invasion. Later that year, during the invasion of Tinian, another of the Mariana Islands, Carroll said, he would volunteer to go ashore and treat wounded Marines. He would go from one to another, sometimes answering the call of "corpsman!" or sometimes just responding to an arm waving for help.

He would treat the ones he could.

"If they had a big abdominal wound, you would just go on by."

Perhaps the starkest memory Carroll carries with him came from a scene he witnessed after the fighting was over. The Marines had wiped out a Japanese pillbox with flame throwers, incinerating all of the troops inside.

To determine how many Japanese they had killed, the Marines would "rake the ashes out, count the number of shoes and divide by two.

"After I got back," Carroll said, "I tried to wipe out all memories."

∂ ∂ ∂

Carroll was sent back to the United States when his LST was damaged in a typhoon but he kept working in the medical field until his discharge in 1947. He was a quick study. He liked learning. He finished his high school studies and got his GED while in the Navy.

He was in the right place at the right time with his curiosity about medical advances. Carroll soon found himself specializing in cardiology equipment and EKGs, first working for Navy doctors, then for civilian MDs — and eventually for himself in the St. Petersburg medical technology company he started.

After Carroll was discharged, he returned to Pennsylvania for a short time before moving to Coral Gables and then to St. Petersburg in the 1950s where he founded Medtek Southeast Inc., a company that sold EKG machines, defibrillators, pacemakers and other coronary equipment.

He closed the business after 40 years and retired, volunteering with local charities such as St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army where he has cooked meals for hundreds and coordinated holiday collections. The same skills that made him a quick study in the Navy and afterward remain. Carroll has a whip-quick sense of humor that he unleashes with a small smile.

He and his third wife, Mary Ann, have been married 31 years. Between them, they have seven children, 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. The oldest is 66; the youngest, 3. Carroll is the only one with two birth dates: Oct. 29, 1925, the one he gave the Navy; and April 17, 1927, the real one.

∂ ∂ ∂

World War II veterans are rapidly dying off — about 550 a day, according to recent U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs figures.

To honor those who are left, nonprofit organizations like the Honor Flight Network are flying veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the nation's capital as guests and heroes and flying them back, all in the same day, all for free.

Carroll's trip is scheduled for May 6.

News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Fred W. Wright Jr. is a freelance writer who lives in Seminole. He can be reached at [email protected]

     
 
Comments
Father dead, suspect in custody after hit-and-run driver plows into New Tampa family on bike ride

Father dead, suspect in custody after hit-and-run driver plows into New Tampa family on bike ride

A Tampa man is dead and his 3-year-old son is in serious condition after being struck by a hit-and-run driver as they went on a family bike ride Sunday afternoon.A male suspect is in custody and being interviewed by police but his name has not yet be...
Updated: 4 hours ago
A local hockey draftee? Mitchell grad Nathan Smith is just that

A local hockey draftee? Mitchell grad Nathan Smith is just that

TAMPA — Every year during draft season, players from the Tampa Bay area are selected in the NFL, MLB and even NBA drafts.But NHL?Sure enough, in the third round of Saturday's NHL draft, the Jets selected Nathan Smith, a forward who was born in ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

TAMPA ó Stripped to the girders, the old Bromley office building looked about as substantial as fish bones on a dinner plate.But the 5-story structure proved Sunday it still had a surprising amount of fight left in it.A demolition team had planned to...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays season turning into good one

Rays season turning into good one

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays are not the best team in baseball. They are not going to win the World Series this year. Heck, they probably won't even make the playoffs.But I tell you what. This team is a heck of a lot of fun to watch.And ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays beat Yankees in 12 innings on Jake Bauers homer

Rays beat Yankees in 12 innings on Jake Bauers homer

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays first baseman Jake Bauers sat at his locker after Sunday afternoon's 7-6, 12-inning win over the Yankees and thumbed through his text messages. There was no way he could get through them all. That's what happens when ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays journal: Yarbrough comes through, Venters to DL, support for Ramos

Rays journal: Yarbrough comes through, Venters to DL, support for Ramos

ST. PETERSBURG — Ryan Yarbrough was only supposed to throw on Sunday if it was an emergency. In the 12th inning with the score tied 6-6 and a runner on first, there was an emergency.Jonny Venters tweaked his right hamstring trying to cover firs...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Suspect dead, 2 injured in St. Petersburg home invasion-turned-shooting

Suspect dead, 2 injured in St. Petersburg home invasion-turned-shooting

ST. PETERSBURGSuspect dead, 2 injured in home invasion, shootingThree people forced their way into a St. Petersburg house before dawn Sunday before gunfire broke out, killing a suspect and injuring two residents, police said.About 5:30 a.m., the peop...
Updated: 7 hours ago
A jogger accidentally crossed into the US from Canada and was detained for two weeks

A jogger accidentally crossed into the US from Canada and was detained for two weeks

The coast of White Rock, British Columbia, in western Canada looks to be an ideal place for a run, with its sweeping views of the Semiahmoo Bay to the west and scores of waterfront homes and seafood restaurants to the east. Thatís what 19-year-old Ce...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Head-on crash kills Pasco teenager, injures three

Head-on crash kills Pasco teenager, injures three

NEW PORT RICHEY ó A 19-year-old driver died in a three-car crash on Moon Lake Road on Saturday afternoon, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.Jillian Faith Hitt, 19 and of New Port Richey, was driving north on the road in a 2008 Hyundai Accent, weari...
Updated: 12 hours ago
President Trumpís trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

President Trumpís trade war threatens the US newspaper industry

STERLING, Ill. - As a longtime editor of small-town newspapers, Jeff Rogers has seen his industry face the collapse of print advertising, the rise of the internet and more. Today, his 18 employees work in a newsroom here that puts out two daily newsp...
Published: 06/24/18