Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Earl M. Knutson was born Aug. 12, 1918 at his parent's home south west of Vermillion.
He enlisted in the regular Navy the first part of the year in 1942 at Yankton, and went to Sioux Falls, to be sworn in. He believes a Mr. Davis took about six of the enlisted men to the Great Lakes Naval Center.
Earl volunteered to be a gunner on a tanker of mercy ship. He went to the shipyard to see the tanker he would be sailing on. Earl was certain that it had to be a left over from World War I and wanted in the worst way to run, but he couldn't.
The cargo on that ship was gasoline, which must have held about one million gallons.
They went to England two times and then to South Africa. For six months they were in the Mediterranean Sea. At some point they went to the iceberg area to get away from the German submarines. While there they had to chop the ice off of the cables on the ship. After that they sailed to the Rock of Gibralter and Algers.
In the process of getting back to the United States, they went through the Panama Canal and then to San Diego for some training.
The ship that Earl was assigned to was the new USS Brush Destroyer. He was a member of the deck gang for awhile, a carpenter for awhile and then became a gunner's mate. They were on their way to Honolulu, HI and were designated to the 3rd and 5th fleet. The 3rd fleet was under Admiral Hallaby and the 5th fleet was under Admiral Mitchell.
Their job was to be between the fighter airplanes and their targets. Many of the airplane pilots that were shot down were picked up by the men in the destroyers. "We hit every Island in the Pacific, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, to name a few, and did some 'practice' shooting on some of them," Earl said.
"Seven to eight months were spent in China," he said. "We got so close to Tokyo Bay that we could see it. While we were there we managed to sink two or three ships. When we were leaving the area the rudder on the USS Brush got stuck. We just kept going around in circles. We were the only ship left. As soon as we unstuck the rudder, we took off as fast as we could going about 49 knots an hour. It wasn't long and we caught up with the other ships.
"When the Armistice was signed in Tokyo Bay, on board the USS Missouri, we were one of the ships standing guard. Some of us were able to go ashore and walk around the ship yard," he said. "We went back to Seattle after the Armistice. A month later we had to go back to China for a few months to patrol the coast. We also took some Chinese soldiers to Korea.
"While we were in Seattle, I met a girl that I became fond of. While I was in China I was called to the office and was told that a certain young woman was soon to have a baby and she wanted me to come back. One of the officers said that I didn't have to if I didn't want to," Earl said. "I told him that I was responsible for this child and I would go to her. When I got there we went to Reno, NV and were married. I grew to love her and was very sad when she died of cancer 10 years later. My second marriage of 15 years ended in divorce. I came back to South Dakota and married Betty who is the love of my life."
Earl was on Treasure Island when he found out that the "six year enlisted men" could get a discharge. So, he got on board a troop train which took him to Great Lakes Naval Center and was discharged.
His first cousin Lowell, was in the Navy on an Airplane Carrier during this time.
Yes, he still has his dog tags and knows his number!
Earl just recently returned from the Honor Flight to Washington, DC. Many of his buddies are buried there and it was a sad time for him. But his best buddy, Cliff Wentworth, from New Jersey is still alive and they keep in touch with each other. Cliff said that,"Earl was the best damn gunner in the US Navy."
We invite any Clay County Veteran who wants to tell his story to call Donna Schafer at 605-624-4819.