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Sunday, November 14, 2021

Five Who Served

THEY CALLED "STEVE." During the 1945 battle for Okinawa, wounded Marines were told to yell "Steve" to summon corpsman Steven Seminerio. Japanese soldiers were calling "corpsman" and then shooting the responding Americans. (Courtesy photo) 

LIBERTY SHIP GUNNER.  During World War II, Haverhill's Earl Aremburg served aboard Liberty-class ships making several transatlantic passages transporting soldiers, equipment and supplies.  Attacks by German submarines and planes made the trips extremely dangerous. (Courtesy photo)

 Journal Opinion  Nov 10, 2021

Thursday, Nov 11 is Veterans Day. It was initially established as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War One on the same day in 1918. In 1954, the observance was renamed and expanded to honor all who have served in our nation’s military.   

In observance of this day, five veterans were interviewed for this column. They all served in the nation’s military between 1943 and 1953.   They are all in their nineties. They all have ties to this area. Their service details exemplify the varied experiences of many other veterans. They all participated by sharing their stories which are presented in chronological order.  

Ninety-five-year-old Earl Aremburg, of North Haverhill, recalled he and his friend Joe Dyke joined the Navy right after his 17th birthday in Sept 1943. He trained as a gunner in Norfolk, Virginia and, was assigned to a 35-man unit on the SS Hannis Taylor, a Liberty-class cargo ship.

Aremburg’s first transatlantic trip was in a convoy of 100 ships carrying troops, equipment, and supplies to the Mediterranean. During the 30-day trip, the ever-present danger from German submarines was significant and the convoy lost a number of ships. Liberty ships, he recalled, “sunk like a stone” with considerable loss of life. Especially dangerous was when the convoy went through the Strait of Gibraltar as it had to go single file.

The Hannas Taylor was assigned to carry cargo around the Mediterranean from North Africa to Naples and at least one trip back to the States. On that trip the ship’s cargo was largely damaged equipment that he referred to as “junk.”

He recalled that perhaps some of the older men suffered more from homesickness and fear than he did. But he did remember experiencing fear during the German nighttime bombings of the port of Naples in the spring of 1944. The vulnerable ships were under total blackout. He recalled the Army’s response with searchlights spotting the enemy bombers overhead.  

Returning to Baltimore, Aremburg was transferred to a second Liberty ship whose mission was refueling ships enroute to North Africa. After the end of the war in the European theater, he was shipped to the Pacific in anticipation of the invasion of Japan.  He was transferred from gunner to machinist aboard the aircraft carrier USS Manila Bay.

 After the Japanese surrender, the carrier was used to return troops to the States for discharge. Because of his low point score, Aremburg was not discharged until Jan 1946.  The Adjusted Service Rating Score was used by the services to determine the order in which service members would be discharged.  Points were granted based on a number of factors, including length of service.

Upon discharge Aremburg traveled by train from San Francisco to Boston, arriving back in Haverhill in April, 1946, just 20 years old. He remained in the Marine Reserve, but was not called for further duty.

Post-war, Aremburg  and his son Ray were well-known for their co- ownership of Blackmount Equipment in North Haverhill and for his activities in the local veterans’ post.      

Jan 31, 1944 was Steven Seminero’s 18th birthday and the day he enlisted in the Navy. As he had been a  pre-med student at Boston University, he was assigned as a corpsman with the 6th Marine Division. That June, he was shipped to Guadalcanal to prepare for the invasion of the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Seminero recalled, “We invaded Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. I was in the first wave that landed. At first, there was no combat, but as we moved south, it became more difficult. Four thousand of our men were killed and many more wounded.” 

He said that three corpsmen sent in before him were killed. “The Japanese were calling ‘corpsman’ to lure them and then kill them.  So my platoon leader ordered the men to call ‘Steve’ if they needed me. I was told later that while I was crawling uphill toward a wounded man, bullets were flying all around me, but I was totally unaware of this.” During combat, Seminero was promoted to Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class.

The division was in Guam preparing for the invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped. “As we thought of the invasion as a suicide mission, we were most relieved.”  The division was then assigned to Tsingtao, China, to process surrendering Japanese forces. 

Upon discharge, Seminero returned to Boston University under the GI Bill. Upon graduation, he married his wife Marilyn and entered seminary.  For 42 years, he served Methodist churches in Massachusetts, retiring to Marilyn’s family home in East Haverhill in 1992.  He is well known in the area, having served as interim minister in several area churches.  They now divide their time between East Haverhill and Concord, MA.   

Seminero said that after discharge, he tried “to forget the war and get on with my life. I never talked about it until the fifty-year observance of the end of the war.” At a program on the Okinawa battle in 1995, he responded to an invitation from the speaker to share his experiences. This interview continues that sharing. 

In 1944, 17-year old Alan Stahl answered his nation’s call and joined the Navy.  He was sent to school to train as a motor machinist. He was assigned to the newly-minted LST 900, a 328-foot tank landing ship.

After amphibious landing exercises in Hawaii, the ship sailed in convoy to Okinawa in June 1945. When asked about the impact of the extreme heat of a Pacific summer, Stahl recalled that as machinists, they were able to get some relief by rerouting some of the air conditioning meant for the officers.

As a Machinist’s Mate, his duties included checking equipment such as the ramp doors and generators. During the invasion of the Japanese-held island, he and his fellows shipmates  were involved in unloading Marines along with their equipment.  One of his duties was to operate the smoke machine that helped provide cover from enemy fire. Something went wrong, and the machine blew up. “It went straight up into the air…I got hell from the Captain.” he recalled.

After Okinawa, the ship prepared for the invasion of the Japanese homeland.  When asked about the use of the atomic bombs to end the war, Stahl said most of the men he knew at the time thought it was “the right thing to do.”  In October 1945, his ship sailed to Tokyo Bay to discharge occupation troops.

Subsequently, he was transferred to the USS LST 875. At this point, the thought uppermost in the minds of most of his buddies was how many points they had accumulated.

After being discharged in 1946, he and his new wife Barbara drove to Oklahoma, where he attended the engineering program at Oklahoma State under the GI Bill. Most of his working experience was for AT &T.  They purchased a farm on South Road in Bradford in 1961, using it first as a vacation spot and then as a retirement home. They now live in Savannah, GA, near their family. 

Hans “Buck” Trede of South Ryegate was born in Germany in 1929. Two years later, his family migrated to America and settled on Long Island. He left the horticulture program at Farmingdale State College in 1950 to join the Marines. After training, he was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Philippines Sea as part of a contingency of 80 Marines. The carrier task force was ordered to the Pacific in response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea. 

In Dec. 1950, the United Nations forces at Chosin, North Korea, were in retreat as the Chinese entered the conflict. The Philippines Sea was at Hungnam to assist with the evacuation of troops and civilians.  Trede was assigned to a launch to go ashore.  During one sortie, he suffered a non-combat injury to his leg that sent him to the sick bay. There he developed pneumonia and was treated with penicillin, to which he suffered a severe reaction. 

After recuperating at the naval hospital in Beaufort, SC, Trede was reassigned at the sea rescue naval base in Bermuda. His duties there were varied, from security on the Tender Pier and main gate to guarding the ammo dump. Additionally, in dress blues, he escorted officers to ceremonies and social events.

Trede wanted an early discharge to return to college, but the appropriate date would be three weeks after the start of the semester.  Luckily, Trede had a sympathetic sergeant who  arranged for him to remain in the Corps for those three weeks and still begin college in the horticulture program. 

Trede moved to South Ryegate about three years ago to live with his daughter. In his retirement, he crafts beautiful furniture. “There is no such thing as an ex-Marine,” he says and proudly carries his Marine identification card in his wallet. Thinking back over his military service, he stated, “They were the best experiences I ever had.”

Bradford’s Leonard Dobbins was drafted into the Army in 1951, at age 21. He was assigned to the 141st Light Tank Battalion and trained at Fort Hood and in the Mojave Desert. In 1952, his portion of the battalion left New Orleans for an army base in Hanau, Germany.  Dobbins recalled that another portion was sent to the war in Korea.  It was just “chance” that gave him the European assignment. 

The battalion was located in the American Sector of what became West Germany. Their presence was part of the American response to the developing threat of Soviet expansion. As it was assumed that tanks would be part of any action, maneuvers were held regularly to keep them battle-ready. But Dobbins concluded that his peaceful tour “was a very safe assignment.”

 Hanau had been almost totally destroyed by Allied bombing during the war. Dobbins recalled that while there was a great deal of reconstruction going on, there was still evidence of the economic repercussions of WW II on the civilian population. 

He remembered seeing a German woman using a horse and cow to plow her field. At night, he would see kids going through the garbage from the mess hall, searching for food. 

While relations between the military and the local population were generally good. However, Dobbins recalled the damage the battalion’s large tanks did to roads and buildings at civilian crossroads when the tanks were unable to maneuver the sharp corners easily.

Dobbins had been a carpenter prior to being drafted and was assigned to be a battalion carpenter. After returning to Bradford, he used his enhanced skills as a local carpenter/contractor and continues to do at age 91. He married his wife Evelyn in 1954, and they still live on Dobbins Lane in Bradford. 

As with the other veterans interviewed, he mentioned the excellent care he has received at local VA hospital and of the many veterans met through American Legion functions.      

 In 1995, Oxbow High commemorated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two by inviting over 50 local speakers to recall their experiences for the students.  Speakers included soldiers, airmen and sailors, factory workers, a UFO entertainer, a German civilian who recalled Allied bombing, and a man dropped behind the lines in Southeast Asia with the task of organizing locals against the Japanese.

As that generation was aging, that was about the last decade in which such a collection of such locals could be held. We owe a lot to that generation, especially to those who served in the military.      

Several years ago, my wife and I were having lunch with Alan and Barbara Stahl at a local dinner on Tybee Island, GA.  When I went to pay the tab, I was told that a stranger had paid for their lunch in gratitude for Alan’s service. Earl Aremburg recalled similar incidents at local restaurants and the young people who asked about his service. 

“Thank you for your service.” On Veterans Day, 2021, that message continues to be appropriate not only for those who served in World War II, Korea, and during the Cold War, but for the many who followed as well.