Honoring & Remembering

Seaman First Class Francis Armstrong was born May 14, 1924, at Santee, NE.

Francis  finished his high school studies at Vermillion High School a semester before his high school graduation.  His mother suggested that he take some courses at USD.  He did that, being a member of the ROTC program.  He took pre-veterinarian courses and finished the two year program in two summers and one year.  He applied to attend the State College in Ames, IA in the Veterinary School of Medicine.  He was accepted in 1943, one of 50 students.  He was a member of the Army's specialized training program and was known as Private Armstrong.  They had to wear their uniform every day and had to march to their classes.  He also wore that special hair cut every service man has to have.

In the fall of 1944 the Army's specialized training program ended.  He was given the choice to continue in school or enlist. Francis felt the need to enlist.  He enlisted in the Navy and went to the Great Lakes Naval Station.  He was in Radar School.  

After Radar School, he arrived at the West Coast in San Diego, CA. The ship he was assigned to was the USS Levy DE 162 which was a destroyer escort. There were six identical DE's in that convoy and the officer in command had his office on the Levy.  This particular type of ship was new to the Navy and was used as a decoy for the destroyer ships.  The destroyer escort was a smaller ship, but looked just like the destroyers at a distance.

On his first time out at sea, Francis was seasick. When they docked in Hawaii, he was still sick and they offered to take him off ship and let him do different duty. He decided to stay on board his ship and was seasick the entire time they were at sea.

The food on board ship was pretty good, but the ice cream maker that one of the officers snitched from another ship made the food even better.

Kamikazes or suicide planes often tried to land on their ship. It never happened to them but it did to one ship close by and made a huge hole near the stack of that ship.  A few sailors died but most of them survived.  

One of the most difficult times he had in the Navy was when they were about 800 miles off the west coast of Japan. They were in a typhoon with waves about 40-feet high washing across the bow. He was the radar operator at his station which was just above the guns. He sat on a chair which was welded on top of another chair and he kept falling off.  

Soon he was asked to go to the helm because they needed more men to steer the ship. He stayed there most of the time because he was more successful at the helm. He attributes that ability to his strength and his experiences of driving an old Fordson tractor in the field which was very difficult to steer. He was also very seasick. When it was over he asked for different duty and became the Master of Arms of the mess hall.

They were about 100 miles from Japan when they received a call from a ship near Okinawa asking for help because the Japanese had torpedoed them.They were able to get to them and rescued a boatload of natives who had escaped from enemy held Jaluit.  These people were very thin from hunger.

Francis' brother John was also in the Navy. He was on a troop transport when their ships passed through a port in the Pacific only one day apart.

August and September marked a high point of the ship's wartime career.  Aboard Levy, Capt. H. D. Grow negotiated and accepted the surrender of Mille Atoll on Aug. 12, the first official surrender of war. A few days later, Levy witnessed the surrender of Jaluit Atoll. On Sept. 4, Wake Island surrendered to Brig. Gen. L. H. M. Sanderson, USMC, onboard in Levy.

When they departed the Pacific Theater on Sept. 17, the ship steamed, via San Francisco and the Panama Canal, for the east coast and New York Harbor where they participated in the huge Navy Day celebration. On Nov.15, Levy joined the St. John's River Group, 16th Fleet, at Green Cove Springs, FL. It was there that Francis learned another lesson. If a black serviceman was arrested for disorderly conduct, he was put on a chain gang for five weeks and then received a dishonorable discharge from the service. The white serviceman who was arrested served some time in the Brig and then went back to his unit. This was very hard to swallow.

Francis was discharged in the spring of 1946. The veterinarian school in Ames, IA saved spots for former students returning from the service so they could finish their education, and that is what he did.

We invite any veteran who wants to share their story to call Donna Schafer at 605-624-4819.

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