When Earl Van Amburg was asked if he’d agree to an interview as another of ACV’s World War II veterans, during this 70th anniversary of the war, he agreed, but he warned that his story wouldn’t be interesting because he never saw combat. We feel that any veteran’s story is important and interesting. See if you agree.
In the fall of 1944, Earl turned 18 and joined the United Stated Armed Forces. The battle began in 1939, and the Army was still drafting, but Earl dreamed of sailing into battle on a large ship, so he visited a Navy recruiter before his draft letter could arrive. He had been studying to be an auto mechanic in school, so the Navy put him on the path to becoming an engineer.
After boot camp, Earl went to basic engineering school and to two advanced engineering schools. He still dreamed of sailing on a battleship or an aircraft carrier — something grand and imposing. Unfortunately, he didn’t get his wish. Even before his class had finished their program at the second advanced engineering school he was attending, Earl and his classmates were taken out of school and sent to Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, California.
Earl’s job at Hunter’s Point was to assist in the recommissioning of ships that had been “in mothballs” — mostly submarines that had not been used for some time, had been sitting dormant, but were now needed to aid in the war effort.
Right around the end of the war, in the end of spring 1945, Earl thought he had finally gotten his wish. In the middle of the night, a flashlight was shown in his face, waking him. He was told he was going to be taken to a distribution center, and from there, shipped out. Name after name was called at the center, along with each ship assignment. When they finally called Earl’s name, they followed it with “AO53.” Earl asked another sailor what kind of ship that was. The sailor replied, “An oil tanker.” Once again, Earl was disappointed.
Earl’s tanker sailed to Tokyo Bay, Japan, where it refueled aircraft carriers. Earl said they didn’t just refuel American ships; allied ships, such as those of the British fleet, were also serviced. Earl served as a Boiler Technician in the engine room.
Earl says the only action he saw during his time on the tanker was from local Japanese who didn’t know or wouldn’t believe that the war had ended. He said they would row out to the anchored ships in tiny boats and attach bombs to the anchor chains.
At the end of 1946, Earl returned to Boston and was discharged. He worked as an auto mechanic at a Ford garage, and two years later, he married his high school sweetheart, Vera.
When Earl was discharged in 1946, he signed up as an inactive reservist. The Navy assured him he would never be called back to active duty. Unfortunately, in 1950, he was reactivated when the Korean War broke out. By this time, Earl was happily married and had no interest in the excitement of a large Naval ship. When they asked him what type of ship he’d like, he replied, “A tugboat in the Boston Harbor.” He was ironically assigned to an aircraft carrier.
But Earl’s carrier wasn’t sent into harm’s way, per se. It sailed around the waters of Cuba and served as a training ship for reserve pilots who needed to practice taking off from and landing on an aircraft carrier.
Earl served for two more years in the Navy during the war in Korea. At the end of that time, he said goodbye to the Navy forever. He returned home to Vera and they had one daughter and adopted a son. Earl continued to work on cars and even was part owner of a Datsun dealership for a while.
Today, Earl is living life to the fullest at Advent Christian Village (ACV). Vera passed away several years ago, but Earl enjoys good relationships with his two kids, especially his daughter, who also lives in Florida. One of his regular activities is he spends three days a week visiting those who live at Good Samaritan Center (GSC), ACV’s skilled nursing community, because of a promise he made to Vera before she died: that he would continue to regularly visit with those who live at GSC, even after she was gone.
Earl says he wouldn’t trade his time in the Navy for anything. He’s very grateful for those periods in his life. And we’re grateful to Earl for his service, as well. Earl may not have ever “seen action,” but his work increased the number of ships available to defend us and our allies, kept ships and the planes which took off from them going, and provided the training pilots needed to aid in the defense of South Korea.
Your work was valuable and necessary, Earl. Thank you.