Four U.S. Navy World War II veterans came together to reminisce about their service and friendships created on the USS Bollinger at their 23rd annual reunion, held Tuesday at Tyler’s Best Western hotel.
Charlie Stewart, Robert Hogue, Jimmy Upchurch and Bill Reynolds, who are all 93, are celebrating 75 years since joining the Navy. This is their seventh year coming to Tyler for the gathering.
The USS Bollinger was a part of the Pacific Fleet in World War II. The ship was a part of the Iwo Jima invasion and made trips across the Pacific, such as to Okinawa and Guam, carrying cargo and passengers.
Stewart, of Groveton, said the first reunion was in 1997, which was 50 years after they last saw each other.
“We served on the ship together and you form a bond in the service,” Stewart said. “You have a lifetime of memory for something like that.”
Stewart served as first helmsman of the ship. He recalled the travel most of all.
“We made over 100,000 miles. The ship didn’t stay in one place too long,” he said. “We were so busy.”
Hogue, of Coldspring, said they hardly recognized one another at their first reunion, but soon the memories started coming back.
He was on gun watch for the ship. Hogue recalled that the shells coming out of the ship’s guns were hot. The guns weren’t fired often, but the crew did practice, he added.
Hogue also remembered a large storm that broke loose some of the ship’s steel plates near Okinawa. He said two crew members were buried at sea during their time on the Bollinger.
Reynolds, of Center, ran the landing craft that got the Marines to shore.
“A lot of them didn’t make it. Marines were always real quiet. Most of them had been fighting before,” Reynolds said. “They had it rough.”
He added that the Marines were often seasick while on the USS Bollinger.
Upchurch, of Texarkana, remembered the Japanese kamikazes coming from the east. He said the kamikazes didn’t do much damage to their ship.
The veterans received cards from the fifth grade Sunday school class at First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Daughters of their shipmate Wallace Norman, Emily Zietz and Lauren Fox; Upchurch’s daughter Carol Holland; and Hogue’s daughter-in-law D’Wana Bryant were also in attendance for the reunion. Norman died in 2004.