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Vets who witnessed Japanese surrender reunite, reminisce

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By Cheryl Kuck, The Brandon News & Tribune
August 01, 2011

PLANT CITY — Veterans who sailed aboard a destroyer that shuttled dignitaries to the Japanese surrender in 1945 met at a local hotel to look back at ship’s storied history.

Tributes to fallen heroes, camaraderie, laughter and a few tears were all a part of the 14th reunion of various crews who served on the USS Rogers – a ship that saw its share of action over four decades.

The reunion at Red Rose Inn and Suites was organized by David Vick, a Plant City minister who served on the Rogers as a mess cook during World War II.

“We’re not getting any younger and need to get together before time runs out. There will never be a better year than 2011, marking the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.” said Vick, who with his wife Shirley called all crew members they could find.

The nearly 400-foot ship that was christened in 1944 also saw action in the Korean and Vietnam wars. It was transferred to the Korean navy in 1981, and taken out of service in 1999.

A handful of the former crew members attending the Plant City reunion, including Vick, were aboard the Rogers when it sailed into Tokyo Bay at the conclusion of WW II. The ship ferried American and Japanese dignitaries onto the USS Missouri for the surrender that brought history’s bloodiest war to an end.

Eighty-eight-year-old Third Class Seaman Jack Kurtzer of Delray Beach, was a guest speaker at the reunion banquet and spoke of his recollections as the sonar man who received the radio message that peace was at hand.

“I was the captain’s talker and was on the ship’s bridge with him when we received the message to pick up American naval and Japanese dignitaries, taking them into Tokyo Bay for the signing of the documents of surrender. I was also with the captain and signal man on the bridge on Sept. 2 so was one of three men who first got a view of entering Tokyo Bay on that momentous occasion,” he recalled.

The ship, first launched in 1944, was named in honor of brothers, Edward, Jack and Charles Rogers, who died side by side in 1943 on the Navy heavy cruiser USS New Orleans at the Battle of Tassafaronga.

The Rogers’ younger brother, 78-year-old Howard Rogers, said the brothers first saw combat at the Dec. 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Charles was badly burned but refused hospital treatment, said Rogers, a retired pastor who lives in Flagler Beach.

“Shortly afterwards they sent a letters home that included their church tithes which they sent home on a regular basis saying, ‘We are prayed up, paid up and ready to go!’ That meant they were ready to die together if necessary. In the end, they did stay together and die together, and now they live together forever more. The boys were all Christians and their actions inspired me to become a pastor,” Rogers said.

The USS Rogers continued to serve on the front line of American defense.

In Korea, it bombarded enemy forces on shore, said James Bryan, a seaman first class. At the end of the war, the crew members received the Korean equivalent of the Freedom Medal and a letter of thanks from the South Korean president, Bryan said.

Rogers veteran Roy Bahalyar recalled his service during the 1961 Cuban missile crisis.

He recalled that the crew braced for Armageddon but “thank God they came to their senses before nuclear meltdown.”

During the mid- to late-1960s, the USS Rogers saw action in Vietnam and aided the USS Enterprise in 1969 after the aircraft carrier’s deck caught fire from a rocket that left its mount on an F-4 Phantom.

The vets saw old movies of their ship, shared war stories and saw a replica of Jolly Rogers flag that was flown on board the USS Rogers and a depth charge.

At the end of the reunion, two recently deceased original crew members who served in WW II were honored with folded flags presented to family members. Vick read the names of the Rogers brothers and shipmates who died over the years as a replica of the ship’s bell tolled.

The veterans and their families sang the gospel favorite, “Amazing Grace.”

Then they released balloons with a prayer for each man who served on the Rogers.

Their next reunion will be in 2013 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

    HOLOCAUST DEATHS BY COUNTRY

    COUNTRY

    ESTIMATED
    PRE-WAR
    JEWISH
    POPULATION

    ESTIMATED
    JEWISH
    POPULATION
    ANNIHILATED

    Poland

    3,300,000

    3,000,000

    Baltic countries

    253,000

    228,000

    Germany & Austria

    240,000

    210,000

    Bohemia & Moravia

    90,000

    80,000

    Slovakia

    90,000

    75,000

    Greece

    70,000

    54,000

    Netherlands

    140,000

    105,000

    Hungary

    650,000

    450,000

    Byelorussian SSR

    375,000

    245,000

    Ukrainian SSR

    1,500,000

    900,000

    Belgium

    65,000

    40,000

    Yugoslavia

    43,000

    26,000

    Romania

    600,000

    300,000

    Norway

    2,173

    890

    France

    350,000

    90,000

    Bulgaria

    64,000

    14,000

    Italy

    40,000

    8,000

    Luxembourg

    5,000

    1,000

    Russian SFSR

    975,000

    107,000

    Finland

    2,000

    22

    Denmark

    8,000

    52

    TOTALS

    8,861,800

    5,933,900