World War II In The Caribbean

(By John Mallery)

Bill Groot (1946)

In 1926, William C. “Bill” Groot was born into a Navy family.   His father served over thirty years in the Navy and retired at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer.  One of his uncles also served in the Navy in the early 1900s as a Radioman First Class until his death from appendicitis.

In March, 1944, a seventeen-year-old Bill Groot enlisted in the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army.  He completed his basic training at Camp Perry, Virginia, which was a Seabee base.  Upon completion of basic training he shipped out from New York City to a U.S. Naval Repair Base located on the Caribbean island of Trinidad.  Arriving at the base, his new bunkmates told him about watching the fires at night where ships were burning at sea after being torpedoed by German U-boats.

During his service here, his unit repaired and re-supplied ships from the Atlantic fleet.   Bill says he enjoyed lots of time off, and fishing and swimming were favorite pastimes.  He also became curious about the dock operations which led him to learn how to operate the dockside mobile cranes that were used to load supplies on ships.

He recalls that one day when they were a little short-handed his lieutenant told him to operate one of the cranes to load a cargo of depth charges onto a destroyer escort.  Over Bill’s objections, the lieutenant told him he’d been watching him and was sure he could handle it.  Bill still recalls the nervousness he felt when the depth charges were lowered out of sight below decks.  All his focus was intently concentrated on the hand signals being flashed to him as he lost sight of the dangerous cargo.  The lieutenant’s judgment proved valid as Bill completed the loading without fault.

During his time in Trinidad, to the relief of everyone, World War II ended when Japan finally surrendered after the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Bill is convinced that President Truman made the right decision to use the atomic bombs against Japan.

After a shore leave home he reported to the Boston Navy Yard and joined the crew of a Navy destroyer, the USS Power (DD-839).  The training cruises in the Caribbean proved to be interesting, especially the live-fire exercises.  His assignment was acting Gun Captain on the number one gun in the aft gun turret.  He recalled the time when the heat inside the mount got rather warm, so they opened the hatches to get some air.  This lasted until the anti-aircraft guns located above their mount began firing.  Due to the noise, they rapidly slammed their hatches shut.

Another memorable moment was when he and a buddy were browsing around the fantail admiring the distant shoreline when the ship suddenly went to flank speed.  If not for the life lines, the speed increase would have sent them overboard.  As the ship gathered way he describes the sea standing about four feet above the fantail as the ship dug down and surged ahead.

Bill Groot

In March, 1946, Bill was advised that the ship was scheduled for a cruise to the Mediterranean.  Since his enlistment in the Navy would run out before they got back, he was asked to re-enlist to accompany the crew on the cruise.  In what he claims was one of the biggest mistakes of his life, he opted not to re-enlist in the Navy.   Bill was discharged at the rank of Boatswain’s Mate Third Class and joined the “52-20 Club”—receiving $20 per week for 52 weeks.

He returned home to Arlington, Virginia.  Shortly after returning home, a friend talked him into going to work for a plumbing contractor.  In 1960, with fourteen years of experience as a plumber, Bill moved to Ashburn, Virginia, and started his own business.

During that same year, Bill met and married Peggy Lou Cockrell.  They had two sons and a daughter and  now enjoy seven grandchildren.  In 2001, Bill retired and finally found significant time to spend on his lifelong hobby of stamp collecting.

Upon the death of his wife, Bill moved into Greenfield Assisted Living Center here in Berryville.  He has been a member of Post 41 for the past three years.

Louis and Arthur Groot

Author’s Sidebar: “A Navy Family”

Bill’s father, Louis E. Groot, served in the Navy for over thirty years.  He enlisted in 1903 and received his basic training on the USS Constitution.  During his father’s Navy career, he served on the USS Monongahela, a converted square rigger steam ship; the USS Adams, a wooden screw steam ship; and various battleships where he held the rank of Chief Turret Captain.

He was also a member of the Apprentice Association which was an organization of square rig sailors that faded out over the years along with the sailing ships of the line.  He retired in 1933 at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer.  When World War II broke out, he re-enlisted and was assigned to teach gunnery at Long Island, New York, to Merchant Marine personnel.  Bill’s uncle, Arthur Groot, also served in the Navy in the early 1900s.

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