Paul Ness will sign his book at the Spring Valley Public Library this Thursday, April 24.  The Navy veteran earned these medals for his service during World War II.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Paul Ness will sign his book at the Spring Valley Public Library this Thursday, April 24. The Navy veteran earned these medals for his service during World War II. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
"It was just turning daybreak when all hell broke out in our camp. We were to report to an assembly area within the camp in a few minutes. Our commanding officer was a full commander, as was the executive director. The commanding officer commanded a destroyer which had been sunk by German subs, and on this day, he was in a violent mood. He told us that we were going into battle somewhere. He screamed and yelled and told us to be prepared to 'kill, kill, kill!' He said if we had a secret weapon, we had better bring it along. We were ordered to prepare to leave camp in a very short time. We marched, or rather walked to the pier in Oran, North Africa. Our gear was heavy, and it was dusty hot. We boarded ship...we left port and assembled someplace out in the Mediterranean, wondering where we were going. We checked our rifles and bayonets. We sharpened our knives. We were ready to 'kill,' but I was scared."

So reads an excerpt from Spring Valley resident Paul Ness's book, "Reflections of a World War II Navy Sonarman" - a short collection of Ness's memories about being in the Navy and life after he returned home - that he will sign at the Spring Valley Public Library on Thursday, April 24, much to the delight of Spring Valley Public Library director Dianne Sikkink and all who have heard or read the veteran's story.

He explained in the foreword why he chose to write it, noting, "As days, and then years go by, we all want to leave something behind that tells a bit about what it was like to be 'me.' Like everyone else, there are experiences that touched my life, and in some cases, changed my life forever. In this book, it is my desire to share a few of those experiences with you. Now that I am in my 90s, it seems expedient for me to get these thoughts and experiences on paper."

Ness, now 92, originally intended to enlist in the Army Air Force, but when he and two friends took the fitness test at the recruitment center in Minneapolis in 1942, his blood pressure failed to lower at a satisfactory rate after physical exertion, meaning that he couldn't become a fighter pilot - something he originally wanted to do. However, he speculates now that that is what saved his life - his friends were both deemed fit enough to fly, but he "went across the hall" to join the Navy, hoping to be sent to work on a destroyer.

While he was ultimately assigned to an amphibious unit that patrolled the United States' eastern coastline, his friends were both shot down in combat, and he wonders to this day why he was spared, as he related in the foreword, writing, "Having served in the Navy during World War II, one question has repeatedly entered my mind: 'Why were some of my classmates and fellow Navy comrades taken, while I was spared?' I can recount some events in the following pages that may show HOW I was spared, but the question 'WHY?' is probably one that has troubled many of us who have fought in any war. As time has gone by, I can only say that I still do not have a definitive answer to that question, but as with many events in our lives, we have to step back and look at the One who is in ultimate control of all that happens on this planet we call Earth...if we choose to ask God, 'Why me?' when something sad or disastrous happens in our lives, we must also ask, 'Why me?' when He allows our lives to be blessed...."

Ness stated that he considers himself blessed to have friends such as Jenelle Pearson, without whom "there would be no book," because Pearson kept asking him when he was going to begin writing and then assisted him in taking notes when they collaborated to make the manuscript whole, Bruce and Rita Hartert, who encouraged him to frame his medals of honor and have them photographed, and C.J. Boerger, who helped him get the manuscript published.

He also enjoys sharing copies of his book with people who might find an interest in his story, beginning with the foreword and his introduction that states that "World War II was going full blast...I was 21 years old and in the prime of my life" and leads readers to the very last pages, on which he lists the medals he received decades post-discharge.

Seeing the completed book for the first time this early March was "unbelievable," but he feels that it was worth the nearly three years invested in the project because "there's not a lot of World War II guys left." That's why he's excited to share his legacy.

"This took 50 years of writing, over and over again. Jenelle and I took two to three years to get all the notes down, but I guess the main thing is to tell how this was my life in the service," he said. "I appreciate people wanting to find out how it was when I was in the service."

Ness will sign his book, "Reflections of a World War II Navy Sonarman" this Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Spring Valley Public Library. For more information, contact Dianne Sikkink at the Spring Valley Public Library, 346-2100.