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Warwick man part of WWII family

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

WARWICK -- Grady West of Warwick is the youngest of five brothers who served during World War II. West served in the U.S. Maritime Service during World War II while his brothers were serving in the Army.

The Maritime Service (USMS) was established in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when a second world war seemed imminent. Roosevelt realized that numerous ships would be needed to carry war supplies to the fronts with specially trained personnel operating the ships.

West said the purpose of the USMS was to train men and officers to operate the merchant ships. In 1943, West said a recruiter came to his high school in Ashburn and spoke to the students about the need for men in the service.

"I agreed to join and went to boot camp immediately after I signed up," he said.

The 19-year-old West would soon learn, however, that the position he had signed up for was not what he thought it was.

"I signed up and wanted to be a fireman," he said. "I originally thought a fireman was someone that ran around and put out fires on the ship."

West said he quickly learned that this was not the case.

"They put us on a bus to Atlanta and then we boarded a train to New York where the training base was," he said. West trained at Sheepshead Bay in New York, which at the time was the newest training facility for the USMS.

"When I got there, I figured out right away that wasn't going to be putting out fires," he said. West said a fireman operated an oil-burning system to generate steam in boilers on small and medium sized vessels.

West would not work as a fireman for long. He said that the need for men was desperate during the war and that many men were given jobs that needed to be filled.

"They sent me to Pennsylvania and I was assigned to the mess crew," he said. "So, my first few months aboard the ship I was mostly washing dishes."

West said that eventually he was sent back to work in the engine department, where he found his calling as an engineer. "They sent me to officer training school in Connecticut," he said.

West began working as an engineer aboard merchant ships delivering supplies to the Allied Forces around the globe during World War II.

West said one of his brothers who influenced him greatly was his brother Sidney Loran West, who fought in Saipan during the Pacific campaign in World War II.

He said his brother Loran joined the Army in 1941 as part of the Army Corps of Engineers.

"Their job was to build landing strips for the Allies in the Pacific," said West. "They were taking the islands step by step."

West, said Loran was involved during the Battle of Saipan in June 1944, where he was wounded when shrapnel from a bomb lodged in his back.

In a letter from Loran to their mother on July 23, 1944, he described the attack as brutal and remarked at the headlines the battle had made.

"Say I better tell you where I am before you think this is a snow job," he wrote. "Well I am in Saipan Island one of the Mariana Islands. And I know we have made headlines."

Loran wrote about the fear he felt during the counter attacks by the Japanese.

"I can tell you that the first few nights I was never so scared in all my life," he wrote. "Them bombs started to fall. I thought my time had come, I had rather have five Japs shooting at me then have one plane dropping bombs around."

Grady West said despite Loran West's apparent injury, he continued to serve his country until he was discharged. Grady West said he brother would go on to get married, but died early in life due to medical complications of the shrapnel in his back.

West said another brother, Eddie Lee West, served in the Army Military Police stationed in the Panama Canal Zone.

"I got to see him on several occasions when I was passing through the Canal Zones," he said.

Grady West said his older brother even took him along on duty one night.

"Their job was to keep the American military personnel who might have been drinking to much from getting into more trouble," he said. Eddie Lee also had to act as a detective for the Canal Zone, making sure that enemy ships or cargo was not being allowed to pass through.

He said Eddie Lee returned to the family farm after he was discharged from the military.

West second oldest brother, Alfred Clayton West, was the only brother to be drafted into the war.

"He (Clayton) was married and had on son and he had a paint business at that time," he said. "He was drafted in the last group of 35-year-old men."

West said Clayton was the last brother to join the service during World War II and went on to become a successful contractor.

He said his brother Ray Gaston West, was the most deeply affected by the war.

West said his brother fought during the Battle of the Bulge, the major German offensive in Dec. 1944 and what has been called the bloodiest battle that the Allied forces experienced in World War II.

"They (the Germans) massacred a lot of the soldiers," he said. "It was a terrible battle."

West said although Gaston survived the battle, he came home shell-shocked and experienced post traumatic stress disorder.

"He was having nightmares," he said. "He would wake up at three in the morning screaming."

West said his brother was not very open about his mental anguish and that he regrets that there were no psychiatrists around in the '40s and '50s who could treat this type of illness.

"The didn't have the psychiatrists or medical personnel to treat these men," he said. "They suffered alone. They were just victims of a situation beyond their control."

West said that Gaston never married and continued to battle depression throughout his life.

The men of the West family were not the only ones to aid in the fight during the war.

West's only sister, Lola Lou West, stayed with her brother Clayton while he was stationed in Florida and worked for the Army Air Forces Tactical Air Command during World War II.

Grady West married high school sweetheart, the late Evelyn West, in 1946 and worked as an engineer for General Electric in Cleveland, Ohio, until he moved to Warwick and worked for 31 years as the production manager for the Crisp County Hydroelectric Dam.