July 4, 2014 12:42:57 AM
Albert Glenn moves about his house with pace and intent; he seems young for an 88-year-old. In his home on Spivey Road, he moves deftly from room to room showing off his old Navy uniform and other war relics while reflecting on his service during World War II.
If he seems young for his age now, he was certainly young as a soldier, too: His mother signed permission for him to enter the service at age 17. Glenn's older brother had gone off to the service two years earlier, and Glenn felt the call to serve.
"I thought it was the only thing to do," Glenn said.
He joined the Navy, and was sent up to the Great Lakes to receive training. In 1944, he sailed from California to the South Pacific with the 6th Fleet.
Glenn said he was called to see his captain on one of the first days of the voyage. He was surprised and a bit nervous, he recalled. He thought he might have been in some kind of trouble. He went up to see the captain.
"Are you from Columbus, Mississippi?" the captain asked.
"Yes, sir," Glenn replied.
"I am, too," responded Capt. Scott Tennison.
The U.S. campaign in the Pacific featured island-to-island fighting with the Japanese in an attempt retake the American territory of the Philippines and limit Japanese expansion. This required amphibious assault vehicles and support.
Glenn served on one of these support ships, known as a Tank Landing Ship or LST.
LSTs were vital in military operations such as D-Day in the European Theatre, but were used most often in the Pacific, where all fighting required naval support. They carried tanks, troops and ammunition to support amphibious assaults. The LST Glenn served on was 328 feet and could hold 20 Sherman tanks. The boats were versatile and could land right up on the beach to unload tanks, men and ammunition.
"Truthfully, I enjoyed the boat," reflected Glenn. "At the time, we didn't think we were enjoying it."
That is understandable. Glenn worked in the engine room on the boat. It was hot, hard work. His job was to generate electric power by diverting water from heating tanks. When the boat went onto land, Glenn would divert water from the front to the back of the boat to push it on to the beach and then quickly return water to the front for balance, he said.
Glenn was also responsible for loading the boat's 22-millimeter gun during combat.
The day started at 6 a.m., went to 6 p.m. and required the men to take watch in shifts of four hours on, eight hours off throughout the night. There wasn't much time for sleep, Glenn said. They had a job to do. When sleep did come for Glenn and his shipmates, one didn't want to be below deck.
The sticky South Pacific made Mississippi summers seem almost pleasant.
"We would all try to sleep top-side," Glenn said. " You would tie up your cot to the ship to keep from going overboard."
Glenn and his LST, affectionately and ominously known by Navy men as "Large Slow Targets,", were involved in support roles in MacArthur's retaking of the Philippines and the invasion of the Okinawa. This was a time when the Japanese were desperate and fierce. Kamikaze attacks were becoming prevalent.
"Our biggest problem was suicide planes," Glenn said. "I saw a plane go straight into the middle of a ship and destroy the whole thing."
Following the victory over Japan, Glenn, known back home by his nickname, "Shorty," spent four more years in the Navy Reserves. He returned to Columbus, where he opened Columbus Machine and Welding Works in 1967. He and his wife, Betty, have two daughters, Sandra Brown and Penny Beaty. He has three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Last November, Glenn took part in the seventh and final Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. There were 73 veterans on the trip; Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Rep. Steven Palazzo greeted them at the capital.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight is a non-profit organization that brings World War II veterans to the capital. It was the first time Glenn had ever been to Washington. The men were taken on tours of all the memorials in the National Mall.
"What impressed me more than anything with Arlington Cemetery," Glenn said. " I saw a lot of famous people's graves."
Seventy years after Glenn shipped off to the Pacific, he intends to celebrate the Fourth of July by gathering with about ten other World War II veterans and their families to go out for BBQ.
Glenn said that Independence Day takes on a special meaning for him because of his experience in the war. But he, like so many others in the Greatest Generation, said multiple times that he never did anything heroic, just his job.