WWII Navy veteran saw a lot of fighting across the South Pacific
L.B. Smith grew up in Texas.
"My barber told me if I was going in, he told me to get in the Navy because in the Navy if you've got a bed it's a dry bed," Mr. Smith said. "He says 'you go in the army you may sleep in a foxhole somewhere. So I chose the Navy."
He didn't sleep in a foxhole, but he saw plenty of fighting.
"I was the hot shell man for the number two gun," Mr. Smith said. "I catch the shells as they come out of the gun and throw them out on the deck (to) get them out of the gun turret."
The USS Waller saw a lot of action in World War II including the Solomon's campaign, the Philippines, and the The Marianas. Mr. Smith says he spent all of his time in combat either in that gun turret or down below in the fire room.
"I couldn't see what was going on on the outside," Mr. Smith. "I just knew something was going on, and we just did our best to do whatever we could."
The first combat he saw happened near Guadalcanal in January of 1943
"We went into battle, and the Chicago was torpedoed in that battle, " Mr. Smith said. "The next day she was sunk."
After the Chicago was hit The Waller attempted to tow it to safety, but the Chicago was hit again from the sky by a Japanese fighter plane
"We got credit for shooting down one plane in that battle," Mr. Smith said. "We picked up survivors from the Chicago."
The USS Waller saw more than two and a half years of fighting in World War II. The Waller received twelve battle stars for each battle the Waller was involved in.
"We were one of the very fortunate ones," Mr. Smith said. "Everything that we went through, the ship went through, we never experienced one fatality on the entire war."
When the war finally ended Mr. Smith was in the fire room. One of his buddies called him and told him, but he didn't believe him and hung up the phone. The phone rang again.
"I just picked it up real quick and I said what the hell do you want now?" Mr. Smith said. "This real deep voice came on and said this is he captain speaking, and he said we got word the war is over and we'd like to celebrate a little. So would you mind turning on the steam so the whistle would siren. I said aye-aye sir. I hung up the phone and went flying up the latter to get up there to turn up the steam. So we had a celebration that night in the Manila Bay. The war was over."
The war was over, but the USS Waller had more work to do. Mr Smith and the rest of the crew escorted the USS Missouri into Tokyo Bay for Japan's official surrender. They also spent time in Shanghai in a mine sweeping operation after the war.
Mr. Smith came home in early 1946. He's been in the Chattanooga area for the last seventeen years.