MASON, W.Va. — On Aug. 14, 1945, Japan officially surrendered to all allies, which was considered an end to World War II. The day became known as V-J, or Victory over Japan Day. And on that day in the Caribbean Sea, a young West Virginia man aboard a destroyer ship learned that he would not have to fight in Japan.
“I had relatives who said we shouldn’t have dropped (the bombs),” Mowrey said. “but they saved my butt and all the other people on the ship. (If we had to go to Japan) it was going to be bloody battle.”
Milford Mowrey, 89, of Mason, W.Va. officially drafted for the Navy in June of 1944 in order to keep from serving in the Army.
“The psychiatrist (evaluating me), he said ‘Why did you volunteer for the Navy?’ I said ‘Because I’m turning 18 tomorrow and the Army’s going to get me,” Mowrey said.
The psychiatrist passed Mowrey, and he was accepted into the Navy a day before his 18th birthday.
Mowrey said another stroke of luck helped him to get into the Navy as well. As a young man, Mowrey had partial blindness in his left eye, and was told that if he couldn’t read size 20 print from six feet away from both eyes he could join the Navy but couldn’t go to sea.
“They passed me anyhow,” he said. “I got to go to sea, which is what I wanted.”
Mowrey joined the Navy a month after three fellow Ohio Valley men — Jack Lewis, Bill Buck and Lloyd Wright — had joined. After completing boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., Mowrey was sent to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. for Radio School, where he became a radioman who translated code. After completing school, Mowrey went to Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he joined the crew of the USS Vogelgesang (DD862) and did a shakedown cruise, or test cruise, from Brooklyn to Guantanamo Bay and back under Commander Otto Spahr.
The crew again returned to Guantanamo Bay to join a fleet of ships in 1945. The ships were waiting to see if the atomic bombs dropped in Japan would cause the Japanese to surrender. If not, the ships were to go into Japan’s harbors. While worrying about the Japanese, Mowrey said many men were also worried about the presence of Russians as well, who may attack from the East and whose relationship with the allies would continue to suffer throughout the Cold War.
Another stressful aspect for the men aboard ships was the possibility of being hit by German submarines, which had become notorious for downing myriad ships and airplanes throughout the war. Mowrey spoke about one incident in which his ship was escorting a convoy toward Iceland, which was considered halfway between the United States and Europe.
“We got a call (from an airman) who said ‘You have a torpedo’ coming at you,” Mowrey said. Anyone who was considered necessary was to go to the upper deck, and Mowrey said he believed the men were told to go to to the top deck so that they had a chance to make it off the ship if they were hit.
“I was high as I could get near a life raft,” he said. “And you could see bubbles coming from (the torpedo).”
While others in the convoy planned to move their ships to avoid being hit, Mowrey said Cmdr. Spahr refused to move the USS Vogelgesang.
“Other men got after (Spahr) and he said ‘No, I’m protecting this bigger ship, I’m supposed to protect that ship, and I’m supposed to take the hit,’” Mowrey related.
In the end, the torpedo cleared the ship by 5-10 feet, and that the USS Vogelsang, a destroyer ship, had done its job by protecting the larger ships around it.
After his two-year service, Mowrey was honorably discharged from the military in June of 1946. He attended Ohio University, where he graduated with a four-year degree in three-and-a-half years. He studied accounting. After his accounting work, Mowrey worked in the coal mines of Prestonburg, Ky. but returned to the Ohio Valley to work at Philip Sporn Power Plant, which eventually became AEP, where he did work in the lab and instruments section. From then on he worked as an independent contractor who worked on various engineering projects.
During this time Mowrey also married a woman named Mary Margaret and had two daughters: his late daughter, Melissa, and another daughter, Megan, who is a veterinarian in Canton, Ohio. Megan has two sons who both attend Northeastern University in Boston. After his wife passed away, Mowrey married a woman named Donna, who resides with him in Mason. Mowrey is still involved with VFW Post 9926 in Mason.
Reach Lindsay Kriz at 740-444-4303.