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Focus on Fostoria - Sept0905

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Published on 09/28/05 in the Fostoria Focus
Shangri-La just another home to Fostoria man

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In the Navy Fostorian Dale Bennett when he served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La. The Shangri-La saw action in the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II and fought in the battles of Iwo Jima, the Philippines and Okinawa. By LEONARD SKONECKI Focus Correspondent


Shangri-La — the mythical land of peace and harmony depicted in James Hilton’s book, “Lost Horizon.” Fostorian Dale Bennett once called Shangri-La home; not Hilton’s imaginary paradise, but the USS Shangri-La, an Essex-class aircraft carrier that made a mess of Japanese armed forces in the year 1945. Dale enlisted Dec. 11, 1942. “Then I went in the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, 1942. I got out Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, 1945.” Dale was a fireman first class. He’s lived in and around Fostoria all his life. “I was just an 18-year-old country boy who went to war.” Dale has souvenirs from those days. One is a copy of “The Shangri-La Horizon,” the ship’s monthly publication. The September 1945 issue tells her story from her commissioning to end of the war. Shangri-La was commissioned at Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Va., Sept. 15, 1944. Dale’s mom received an invitation to the ceremony. The carrier was christened by Mrs. James Doolittle. That was appropriate because of a remark President Roosevelt made after her husband led a surprise raid by 16 B-25 bombers against Tokyo in early 1942. Everyone, including the Japanese command, wondered how the planes had reached Japan. Roosevelt, not immediately releasing the information that they’d taken off from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet, suggested they flew from Shangri-La. The Shangri-La crew saw considerable action in the Pacific including Iwo Jima, the Philippines and Okinawa. They also had a beer party on the island of Mog-Mog. “I was down below decks. I was in action, but I never saw a thing,” Dale said. “I heard a lot, boy, it was awfully noisy. I was down in the engine room. Part of my job was to check the gauges and make sure everything was in proper operation. Sometimes I put on earphones to talk with the bridge. They’d tell me what they wanted and I’d relay the message. “When we got the signal that we were at battle stations. I was in damage control. In case anything happened everyone had a station to go to. In case the ship got hit we were supposed to take care of things. We had something to do all the time.” Some of those times included Kamikaze attacks, times that tried a fellow’s nerves. “Oh, yeah, we’d get scared. There were quite a few times when the kamikazes got shot down and they’d hit awful close. It would just rattle the whole ship. They’d have the anti-aircraft guns going at the same time, we had 3-inch guns, 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter, trying to hit one little Japanese plane. It got real noisy in close battle. “You had no idea what was going on above deck. I don’t know if you call it praying or not, but you say, ‘If I ever get out of this, I’m going to be thankful.’ We never got a scratch and that’s so unusual. So many other ships got blasted.” The Shangri-La did some blasting of her own. The ship’s guns and the planes launched from her deck destroyed or damaged 389 enemy aircraft and 166 Japanese ships. In a situation like that, each crewman tended desperately to his own job and the big picture sort of got lost. “When you’re in stuff like that you don’t realize you were in it until you come home and read about it. I never knew a thing about the battles of Okinawa, Iwo Jima until I came home and read about them. “I was in the vicinity when they dropped the atomic bomb, but it was down south and Hokkaido was up north. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in the southern part of Japan. “I heard over the loudspeaker that the war was over that they dropped the bomb. I never gave it a thought. They just said it was a big bomb and that Japan would surrender.” Dale didn’t receive his last copy of the Shangri-La Horizon until it arrived in the mail after he came home. Pages 18 and 19 told the story of one of the Shangri-La’s pilots, Lt. Jack G. Dunn. Lt. Dunn took off for a mission on Aug. 15, the last day of hostilities, VJ Day. He was shot down, managing to ditch his aircraft in a lake 35 miles from Tokyo. He was a prisoner of war for 16 days. With the ship’s band playing Happy Days Are Here Again, Lt. Dunn and four other Shangri-La fliers who’d been shot down returned to the ship in a rescue plane. The date was Sept. 2, the day Gen. Douglas MacArthur took the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri. Planes from the Shangri-La and other carriers flew over the Missouri in the victory formation. Jack Dunn moved to Fostoria after the war and opened Dunn’s Lanes. Dale never knew Dunn when they were shipmates. “I saw him one day out to Kmart or Kroger or someplace,” Dale said, “and I asked him, ‘I’ve got a book at home about the Shangri-La. Were you on there?’ “He said, ‘Oh yeah.’ I said, ‘Were you the one that got shot down?’ He said ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘All these years. I bowled up there. I never knew that you and I were on the same ship.’” It’s not surprising that Fostorian Dale and Curtice native Jack never met. There were 3,300 men aboard the Shangri-La. “It was like a big city,” Dale said. “It had everything on it. There were two other guys from Fostoria on the Shangri-La, though, John Bashore and George Shank.” The fighting notwithstanding, there was much to like aboard Shangri-La. “I saw so much of the world. I went through the Panama Canal three times. I crossed the International Date Line twice, the Equator four times. Of course, we were zigzagging all the time to avoid the U-boats.” They zigzagged very well. When they came home they docked in Los Angeles. On Jan. 2, 1946, 1.5 million people watched the Rose Bowl parade. The Shangri-La float, sponsored by the city of Long Beach, won the Sweepstakes Prize for the 57th Tournament of Roses parade. Dale prizes those days. “I was just one guy. There were so many, many other guys that were in the service that saw a lot more than I ever did. I look back on it now, I’m kind of proud of it. I can say I was there when all this happened. It’s something you’ll never, never forget.”

 

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