World War II veteran Frank Kinney shared his story with men, young and old, attending the Chatfield United Methodist Church's Father-Son Banquet last Wednesday evening.  PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
World War II veteran Frank Kinney shared his story with men, young and old, attending the Chatfield United Methodist Church's Father-Son Banquet last Wednesday evening. PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Frank Kinney is one in 2 million.

"I went to the library a while back and looked up some numbers, and I found that of 16 million World War II veterans, there are only about 2 million of us left," said the Chatfield resident and World War II U.S. Navy veteran.

At 93, Kinney spoke to the gentlemen and boys gathered at Chatfield United Methodist Church's (CUMC) 88th annual Father-Son Banquet, held last Wednesday evening. "I call myself a pretty lucky individual," he added.

Kinney said his father had been in World War I, and he was in World War II from 1938 to 1945. His son graduated from Chatfield and joined the Navy.

His son soon told him, "Dad, you made me make a big mistake...no sooner did I get into the Navy and I got seasick."

Kinney's two grandsons are in the Army and the Marines, and they both served in Afghanistan.

"I'm proud to have been born here in the United States and lived here all my life," he added.

He "apologized" for his Boston accent, as he grew up 40 miles out of Boston in Ayers, Mass., where he saw the poster that said "Earn, Learn and Travel, Join the Navy."

"I couldn't resist, but I couldn't brag about the pay, either," Kinney said. "The first year or so, I earned $21 a month, but I got along fine with free food and clothes. I met some guys who'd spent a year in the CCC, and most of the $30 they made each month was sent home to their families. The fact is that I didn't know if I had it so bad."

Kinney became comfortable at sea, floating on a heavy cruiser in Guantanamo Bay and near Cuba. "I got tired of scrubbing decks, so I put in for engineer force, and I spent the rest of my career below decks in the engine room. I might as well have been on a submarine and gotten submarine pay because there were no portholes."

He transferred to the U.S.S. Wasp in April 1940, touring the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the South Pacific, eventually transporting some English spitfire pilots to defend parts of the European theater.

"The next thing I knew, we were heading for the South Pacific, the Panama Canal, and later we were engaged...one day, I felt the biggest concussion I've ever felt in my life and will never feel again," Kinney remembered. "The Wasp was hit with three torpedoes, and everything was word of mouth communication because our intercom was down. We were told to abandon ship. None of us wasted any time. I got up top and took a knotted rope down to the water, and once I got there, I thought, 'I'm going to make it after all'."

Kinney and his fellow survivors clung to a cork life raft for the next three hours, waiting for the destroyer sailing in the distance to stop dropping depth charges in its quest to decimate enemy submarines lurking below and to rescue the drifting crew.

"Of a crew of 2,000, we lost 200 men. There were more injured, guys who were badly burned," Kinney recalled, his eyes tearing at the memory.

He continued, "We got back to the States, and the common practice for sinking survivors was 30 days of leave. All our mail had been censored - you could hardly say that the sun was shining - so my mother didn't know about it until I got home. I received orders to go to Camden, New Jersey, and be part of a new crew on the U.S.S. Princeton. It turned out that it was other fellas from the Hornet, which sank not long before."

He outlined the names and dates of ships sunk by the German forces, relating that the Princeton was not quite finished when he was assigned to it, and subsequently was sent to be part of a pre-commissioning crew near Philadelphia, and when the Princeton was ready for sea, it was sent to the South Pacific.

"It sank 75 miles off the coast of Luzan. In 17 months, we traveled 150,000 miles, or an average of 300 miles per day. Before the Princeton sank, I was in the engine room, and a single jet plane dropped 500-pound armor-piercing bombs right down to the flight deck, through the hangar deck, and it exploded in the mess hall. We lost almost every baker and cook we had. We only lost 108 men...we thought we'd lost half the crew. It was sad...."

The U.S.S. Birmingham was nearby and attempted to rescue the survivors, but in the process, the ammunition upon the aircraft carrier caught fire and exploded, causing more bloodshed.

"They lost 220 men. It was a god-awful mess," Kinney said, his voice lowering in respect for the dead, "boys who went off to war not knowing what they were getting into."

Following the sinking of the Princeton, the young sailor was assigned to the western coastline of the United States aboard a vessel that served as a rescue freighter, picking up pilots who'd lost their planes but not their lives.

"I got back to the states, to Seattle, where I had good news. There wasn't anything for us to do but wait for new orders, so romance blossomed - I met a girl at a dance hall called the 'Showbox' in Seattle," he shared. "I wasn't the greatest dancer, but I got the courage up to ask her."

His girl, June, was from Clarkson, Wash., and was glad to become his fiancé, then wait for him until he was stationed in Treasure Island, Calif., near San Francisco, where the couple was married on June 15, 1945.

"I'd been there for four to five months, and it was the spring of 1945," Kinney continued. "I remember being in downtown, and I had my first coupon for a pound of sugar, had just passed it to the lady when all the bells and whistles went off, and she handed me my pound of sugar and said, 'Son, would you like another pound of sugar? I believe the war's over'."

Kinney was honorably discharged at Samson, N.Y., after which he and June returned to Washington, where Frank obtained his GI Bill college education at Washington State College. The couple shared 47 years together, landing in Chatfield and raising their children.

Kinney is now married to Betty Berse, and the couple resides at Chosen Valley Care Center, where he's proud to show visitors his World War II photographs, newspaper clippings and tell the truth about war, that he's a "lucky guy" to still be alive and a grandfather to boys who continue the family tradition of serving their country.