Chillicothe News - Chillicothe, MO
  • Local World War II veteran shares his experiences in the war

  • When World War II began in 1939, Floyd Gabel was still a student in Swea City, Iowa. Gabel grew up on a farm about four miles outside of the city, helping his father to run the farm. After completing his high school education, he received a six-month deferment from being drafted due to his father's need for help on the farm. ...
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  • When World War II began in 1939, Floyd Gabel was still a student in Swea City, Iowa. Gabel grew up on a farm about four miles outside of the city, helping his father to run the farm. After completing his high school education, he received a six-month deferment from being drafted due to his father's need for help on the farm. After the six months were up, his father asked if Gabel wanted another six month deferment, to which he replied, "no." The year was 1944.
    "I was 19 when I went in," Gabel recalled. "I was lucky. The war was starting to wind down."
    Gabel traveled to Des Moines to head off to boot camp to join the Navy, along with his youngest uncle. His youngest uncle was not forced to go, however, because he had two children. So Gabel went to boot camp alone in Farragut, Idaho, for eight weeks. Upon finishing boot camp, Gabel was sent to the University of Idaho at Moscow to complete radio school.
    "It was Morse Code that we learned," Gabel said. "We would sit there and just practice for about eight weeks."
    From there, Gabel was sent to San Francisco, Calif., to the outgoing naval unit, but his records were lost. While waiting to receive his records, the Navy assigned him to work shore patrol to keep him busy. Gabel worked both shore patrol and took shifts at a shipyard in Oakland, Calif., to occupy his time. This lasted about a month, and he was finally deployed on a troop ship with Marines, Marinettes, soldiers, Women's Army Corps members and three Navy personnel; a radarman, a fireman and a radioman, which was Gabel's job.
    "They were sending us to Iwo Jima," Gabel said. "We were going on a troop ship and then we transferred somewhere out in the ocean. They never told us where we were. Back then there was a statement they often made, 'Loose lips sink ships.' So we never knew where we were during the war."
    Gabel transferred to a tank ship, which was headed to Iwo Jima to fuel planes and ships. When the tank ship arrived at Iwo Jima, the ship was supposed to go into the harbor to transfer troops to another ship.
    "The captain refused," Gabel remembered. "He said he'd heard there was going to be a 500-plane Japanese attack and he just refused to go in because we were loaded with aviation fuel and crude oil. That night the ship we were to be on was sunk with no survivors. That was one narrow escape."
    From the tank ship's position, the members of the ship were able to witness the attack on Iwo Jima. Once part of the island was secured, Gabel recalled playing baseball with some of the Japanese on Iwo Jima.
    Page 2 of 3 - "They used a ball about halfway between a softball and a baseball," Gabel said. "They threw it overhand. We played a couple of games over there, but basically we were just waiting to be assigned to another ship."
    Through his time overseas, Gabel said he received quite a few letters from home, which helped him to make it through.
    "My mother was awfully good," Gabel said. "I should've written more than I did, but I was not a letter writer."
    Eventually, Gabel was assigned to the U.S.S. Stephen Potter, a destroyer which was assigned to the Sixth Fleet to help guard the U.S.S. Missouri. The U.S.S. Stephen Potter was one of eight or nine other destroyers assigned to guard the U.S.S. Missouri, each destroyer stationed 40 miles around it to protect the U.S.S. Missouri from overhead attacks.
    The U.S.S. Stephen Potter came into contact with a Japanese airplane once during Gabel's time on the ship.
    "We did have one (plane) come in, he got hit by either our artillery or another plane," Gabel said. "When he was he was going down he tried to dive into us and he missed us. Our captain was kind of glory happy and wanted to pick the guy up. He was alive, floating on a wing, and so we had to stop. Back then you didn't want to stop in the water and give a sub a chance to get a beat on you, but he decided to stop and we picked him up."
    After Gabel had spent a few months on the ship, he picked up a special message. Morse code messages were sent in code, grouped in five letter groups so that only those with code books could translate the messages, and radiomen didn't know what they were recording. Gabel gave the message to the chief.
    "He came back and said, 'My God, they've split the atom and they've just dropped the atom bomb on Heroshima,'" Gabel said. "I didn't even know what an atom bomb was at that time, I was just a farm kid, you know. Then that was about the end of the war right there."
    Once the war ended, Gabel wasn't able to return home until 1946.
    "They knew they were going to start sending us all home, but they couldn't send everybody at once," Gabel explained.
    The ship was sent to Nagoya, Japan, as well as Tokyo, Japan, the Phillippines, the Illutian Islands, Hawaii and finally to San Francisco. In total, Gabel spent a year and a half on the U.S.S. Stephen Potter.
    After completing his time in the Navy and receiving his G.I. Bill, Gabel decided to attend college at Estherville Junior College in Estherville, Iowa. Most of his family did not attend high school, and only his youngest uncle had received a college degree. Gabel said that being part of the Navy helped him to receive an education.
    Page 3 of 3 - "It improved my chances to get an education," Gabel said. "Using the G.I. Bill really helped me."
    While in college, Gabel met his wife, Estelle Gabel, through his music teacher. After completing college, Gabel moved to St. Louis, Mo., in 1949 and married Estelle. Together they had seven children. He received both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Washington University there, and taught at the high school for seven years at both Ste. Genevieve and Canton High School. He coached baseball and basketball for Central Methodist College (now Central Methodist University) in Fayette, Mo., for five years, moved to Chillicothe in 1965 as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Gabel and his wife have now been retired for more than 20 years.
    Looking back on his service, Gabel said the war didn't really have a negative impact on his life.
    "I was lucky," Gable said. "Nobody really wants to go to war, but you take your turn. As it turned out, my boys didn't have to go, my dad didn't have to go, but I did. It could've been reversed."
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