Clay County Veterans’ Stories: Darrel Christopherson

Seaman 1ST Class Darrel Christopherson was born Feb. 12, 1924 in Vermillion to Fred and Cora Christopherson.When he turned 17 years old on Feb. 12, 1941, his dad gave him permission to enlist, and a recruiter took him to Omaha, NE to enlist.He took his training at Great Lakes Naval Training in Illinois. From Boot Camp he went to Long Beach, CA for two weeks. He was then assigned to a repair ship in Pearl Harbor, the USS Vestal. His assignment was to 1st Division Deck, which was doing whatever needed to be done on deck. Soon he was assigned to the boats, 60-foot boats on which launches were taken to go on liberty or hauling supplies.Their ship went alongside the USS Arizona to do minor repairs. The next morning the Japanese attacked. The USS Arizona took several bombs. Being alongside, we, took two bombs; forward, the supply storage area, which caused fires that we had to fight, Christopherson said. "When the aft was hit it went all the way to the bottom. Our skipper was blown over the side by one of the explosions from the USS Arizona. He wasn't hurt and swam back to the gangway and came back aboard. When he got back the executive officer said to abandon ship but our skipper said, 'Abandon Ship! Hell, were getting underway!' We cut the lines tying us to the USS Arizona using fire axes. The engine room got up enough steam to turn the propellers on the ship over and we got underway and across the channel. We run it up on the mudflats called Iea Landing. We sat there the rest of the time so we didn't sink," he said. "Our repair crew built a coffer dam which was put over the side and pulled it in over the hole which made it tight enough to keep water from running in. The water that was in the ship was pumped out and tugs towed us from the mudflats to dry dock. They had 24 hours to patch the hole in the bottom of the ship, which was done by the crew from our ship. We were tied up to a buoy until all the work was finished to make our ship sea worthy," Christopherson said. "After a one day shake down cruise, we came back into harbor, got our supplies and were out into the Pacific."Our main job was to follow the fleet, do repairs as required on ships which were damaged during action at sea. We went to all the islands in the Pacific.Our main repair base was New Heberdies at a place called Esperito Santos, where we stayed for two years."Eventually I transferred off the USS Vestal back to the states. Orders sent me to Naval Base in Norfolk, VA. At this time the amphibian force was just coming into its own as part of the Navy. They found out the LST could beach, get men and supplies off and get back out and use them again," he said. "I was assigned to a crew at Norfolk for training. Then was sent to Pittsburgh where I spent six weeks at Carnegie Tech University waiting for our LST to be finished in Neval Ship Yard. The LST was built in Pittsburgh because Mrs. Heines, of Heines Pickles, started a war bond drive to get the money to build it."When the ship was completed our crew moved on board. We had our commissioning ceremonies there. We left Pittsburgh, went down the Monongahela River, OH, and the Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. We spent two weeks in shipyard getting everything ready to go to sea."We left New Orleans across the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal, out to the Pacific. Once we got into the Pacific, we made several landing in the Philippines, spent five days after the Liberation of Manila and made a landing in Brunei Bay in Barnio. After that we wound up pretty much in the China Sea," Christopherson said. "Fortunately the war ended."My brother, Gorden left here on Dec. 19, 1940 with 27th Field Artillery after training in Fort Ord CA. They shipped out for Manila spending three or four days in Pearl Harbor. They were just back out to sea when Pearl Harbor was bombed so their orders were changed to go to Australia. We didn't see each other in Pearl Harbor.Bea worked in a plant where they made Peto Tubes, heaters for oil in airplanes. The ladies who worked there invited several of us to a party at the foreman's house. We were to meet on a street corner to take a bus to get there and we sat on the same seat on the bus," he said. "We corresponded for the rest of the time until I was discharged in St. Louis went to Pittsburgh and was married, Nov. 26, 1945."Basically the food was good. We did complain abut the "green eggs" which were powdered and would turn green when cooked."The hardest part of my service was when Pearl Harbor was hit," Christopherson said. "You had no guns to fight back with. You just did whatever you could to stay alive."

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