IN RETROSPECT
A Personal Autobiography of a Young man gone to War
by I.D. 'Inny' Cerbini, F2c, USNR - Retired

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I write this so that anyone reading it will understand what our generation was all about. Anyone born in the '20s had to live through the great depression. Before I continue I want you know that I am not an author. I'm just a regular guy who was born and raised in the city of New York. To be more exact, in the borough of the Bronx. In fact we still live here. A quiet residential area in the Throggs Neck section. We raised our children here and they have turned out quite well.

Some Personal Background

Our first son Frank lives in Bayside Queens with his wife and two children. He is close by as they live just on the other side of the bridge. That's the Throggs Neck bridge.

My second son Charles and his wife and three children live several blocks away from us.

Our third born child, our daughter Helen, lives with us. In Helen, we have a daughter with a heart as big as a mountain.  She is always there to lend a hand; not only for us, but for her nieces and nephews. Those kids really butter her up.  They know a good thing when they see it. If they want anyting all they have to do is ask Helen.

Our fourth child, Richard, lives in Liberty Lake outside of Spokane Washington with his wife.

Our fifth child, Anthony, lives in Thousand Oaks just outside of Los Angeles, California, with his wife and child. I have digressed far enough so back to my story.

During the depression living was very difficult. My mother would create meals for us from practically nothing. At times even her creative genius could not come up with a meal and so we went hungry. I remember my father looking for any work he could find. Those times were very trying on all who lived through them. People's attitudes were also different from the attitudes that we have today. If you could help your neighbor, who was worse off than you, you would not hesitate to lend a hand. He would do the same for you if he could. People in those days helped one another whenever possible. You knew the problems that were facing everyone. The name of the game was survival.

My older brother and I, in our childhood, had a grand total of three toys that we shared. A scooter a tricycle and a pair of skates. The kind that  had a strap that went around your ankle and a clamp that you tightened around the front of your shoes with a key. All three toys were used until broken beyond repair. You also wore clothes that were hand me downs.

My older brother would be the one who would get the pants and shirt first. You would get the ones he had worn. It took World War II to really bring us back to where people could earn money again. As we grew up my Dad used to say to us "This is our home. This country can give you whatever you want. I have become an American citizen, as did your mother. You are born Americans. Be proud of her as she is the greatest country in the world ," his words have always stayed with me. I had never forgotten them and passed them onto my children and grandchildren.

My Military Life begins

When the second world war started they called out the National Guard. In our area we had the old 65th field artillery. They were called the Fighting Irish. When they went to war they were replaced by the New York State Guard. I lied about my age and enlisted in the guard at the end of 1942. I spent one year there. It was like a reserve unit. We reported to the armory once a week where we learned close order drill. We also learned how to correctly fire rifles, machine guns and sub-machine guns. We also had to report to Camp Smith in upper New York State for training in all weapons and maneuvers.

Sports became a part of my life Early

As I was growing up I found baseball was something that I could play very well. The New York area had many semi pro baseball teams. I was approached by the local book makers who sponsored many of those teams. I was 14 years old at the time and proud that someone wanted to pay me to play ball. Semi Pro ball was a great addition to the family income as they paid me twenty dollars per game. We would practice four times a week and play one game a week. The games were scheduled for specific times. Of course the teams we played against were also sponsored by their local book makers. The sponsors would bet thousands of dollars on the outcome of each game. I was happy with the 20 dollars they paid me. How little we knew then. Enough of this.

I played ball on different teams until I was just a month shy of my 17th birthday. It was at this time that I found out that the New York Giants had scouted me and were offering me a contract. This was a time when they even had a one armed ball player, named Pete Gray, playing in the major leagues. Most regular players had been drafted into the armed services. So I found myself with enlistment papers in one hand and a contract in the other. I chose to enlist in the United States Navy. I said to myself you'll be drafted in one year anyhow.

I went into the Navy. From boot camp to fireman school in Philadelphia and on to the USS Hancock CV-19, a brand-new Aircraft Carrier. I was amazed at her size. I said to myself, "Nothing could hurt this ship."  We had the firepower to knock out of the air, anything, that came at us. Boy was I young and stupid then. Our gunners were excellent and hit what they aimed at. They shot down their share of planes. But as the saying goes, "It only takes one." We had constant drills to prepare us for war.

Into Harms Way

Entering the South Pacific we were ready. We had now moved into harms way. I remember the first time general quarters was sounded. This was not a drill. This was for real. I was one scared kid. The ship was so huge that it took me almost a month to find the shortest distances between two points. Battle after battle seasoned me. We would make bets on when our gunners would shoot down the plane that had the guts to attack us.

Danger at Sea - Our Baptism of Fire

Tas we topped off her tanks on an unrep. While we were refueling her, an enemy plane attacked us. We shot it down just before it hit us. Some parts of the plane landed on our deck. The main part and the bomb landed on the fantail of the Powell and destroyed her steering. She sheered to port and there she was right in front of us crossing our bow. The skill of our helmsman, Quartermaster and crew and our prayers kept us from cutting the Powell in two. This was a time when seconds felt like hours. We waited for the sound of a collision and thank God it never came. We missed her by inches. God was looking down on her that day as she would have lost most of her crew. Prayers went a long way in those days, which proved to be days of valor!hings that standout in your mind: Who can forget the Halsey Powell? A destroyer that was alongside us

I remember the time when we landed a TBM. It taxied forward and opened her bomb bay doors for inspection. Only one problem. She was carrying a 500lb. bomb. Her bomb bay doors opened and the bomb dropped out and exploded. It killed all personnel around the plane including the three man crew in it. It was an accident that killed many fine young men and wounded many others. After a while you got to expect people dying in accidents.

The Danger continues...

I remember another time that a bomb was dropped on us. A Jap plane hit us with a 540lb, bomb. God was with us as it penetrated the steel plate of a 20 mm gun station. The bomb went through the plate and into the water. Leaving a round hole in the plate. It did not explode. God saved our crew once again. The expressions on the faces of the men manning those guns tells it all.

I remember covering the USS Franklin with our guns as she lay dead in the water off the coast of Japan. I remember our gunners trying to shoot down the plane as it dove at us. The plane chose the Franklin instead. One bomb landed on her. She burned and burned as her hatches were open. Water and burning gasoline poured into her guts. Ships pulled alongside of her and started taking crewmen off as they abandoned ship. Ships turning their hoses on her to help fight the fires. She was saved but only with the heroic actions of the other ships around her. Many more young men died fighting for our country that day. This incident was the closest the enemy came to sinking an Essex class carrier. I want history to remember that not one Essex class carrier was ever sunk. They were the best we had. In battle we destroyed the Japanese fleets. They could hurt us with their insane Kamikaze attacks, but our will to win and live was much greater than their will to die. We always gave a hundred times more that we received.

The Refiners Fire - The Battle for Okinawa

We came to Okinawa to take it from the Japanese. It was strategically located in the Island chains making it possible to strike at Japan itself without having to worry that our planes would run out a fuel. We also would have protection for our bombers as they flew over Japan. Our fighter planes could escort the bombers and take care of any planes that would attack them. In a bloody battle we hit the beaches and stormed ashore. Our planes kept the skies clear of enemy planes and supported the ground troops. The cream of American youth bled on those beaches and many of them died.

April 7th 1945 seemed like a day like any other during invasion. I was standing smoke watch. The smoke watch station was just about even with the top of the smoke stack. You had to climb up a ladder on the mast to get to it. The station was a small triangular plate with hand rails. You use it to also put on the stack cover when you were in port and were getting power from shore. The boilers were secured and the cover was put on. The stack itself had a hand rail and a small cat walk around it. You would loop your belt around the hand rail as a safety measure. This was just in case you slipped on the little walk while covering or uncovering the stack. Facing aft and the stack, there was a small locker on your right. In it was an inflatable rubber life belt and other small items. Your function on smoke watch was to make sure that the only thing it showed was heat vapors coming out of the stack. Smoke was always a dead giveaway of your position over the horizon. You were connected to the boiler rooms by sound power phones. The stack was sectioned off so that you knew what each boiler was doing at all times. If white smoke appeared from boiler room No. 4 you would call them and tell them white smoke and they would immediately cut back on the air going into that boiler. If black smoke appeared you would notify them and they would have to increase the air supply to that specific boiler. It was a constant thing that went on during your watch. With the sound power phones you had to wear a larger than normal helmet so the phones would fit under it.

Death and Destruction makes a close call on Hanna

Then the impossible happened, we were under attack! I squatted down, facing aft, looking over my right shoulder at the Plane that was attacking us. He came through a wall of exploding steel as the 20mm and 40mm kept shooting at it. He dropped his bomb and I was knocked to the plate under me. The plane went down the flight deck and plowed into our planes that were sitting on the aft section. The ensuing fires were very bad. Black smoke covered us completely. Because my watch was on top of the stack I always wore my Kapok life jacket. The smoke was so bad that I thought of jumping into water. It was about a 90 foot jump. There were two 40 mm gun Quad's below on the side of the ship. So I said to myself, "make sure that you clear them." I sure didn't want to land on steel plates. I had lost my helmet and sound power phones. Then I thought I should put on the rubber life belt as I might need it if I were in the water for an extended period of time. In order to put it on I had to open my vest. As I did so it came apart in my hands as the back of it was torn off by shrapnel and concussion. I looked at the two pieces in my hands and all thoughts of jumping were gone. I climbed down the ladder to the flight deck.

We had started making high-speed turns in order to dump our burning planes and gasoline over the side. Dead and wounded were scattered about the deck. I will never forget Father Doyle. With tears in his eyes he tried to give Last Rites to the dying. He could not get to them all. He was not the only one crying at that time. All of us had tears in our eyes and our hearts were broken. So many men lost. So many friends gone. The bomb blew a lot of the forward port side gunners into the sea and they were in the water as we made our high-speed turns. They were eventually listed as missing in action. With great effort the fires were under control and put out in about one-hours time.

This was the way I lived my life until the end of the war. The rest of my Navy Life Story is listed in on the Oral Histories Site. Please visit it.

Life goes on

I met and married my wife on December 18th 1955 . For me she was the only Brazilian bombshell I wanted. She was born in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. We had five great children. We now have six beautiful grandchildren. They have become the largest part of our lives. If grandparents cannot spoil them then who can?

Epilog

To sum all of this up, I want to say that America is still the greatest country in the world. This is, despite what our stupid leaders in Washington do to destroy it. We are on the brink of World War 3. This is something that the idiots in Washington just might want. They may be under the assumption that they can stay in office if they start the Third World war. This country is still worth fighting for and will always be so. But we need leaders who know what we HAVE to fight for. It sure is not to stop a Civil War in a foreign country that has been going on for a thousand years. Nor is it to be peacekeepers in some island nation. We cannot be the police force of the world. I understand that we have troops scattered about the world in about a hundred thirty nations. This has got to stop. Our ships are undermanned and their crews overworked and under great stress. The Army is, as I said, scattered around the world. If this sexual expert that we have in the White House could only define the needs of the country a hell of a lot better than he defines sexual intercourse it would be a different story. His evasion of the draft and his refusal to serve our country was his first strike. His second strike was protesting the Vietnam War. His right to protest cannot be denied but it should be done here in the United States. You do not go to foreign nations like Norway and Russia to protest our involvement. This is giving aid and comfort to our enemy. American soldiers were dying and he was giving our opponents a great reason to continue fighting. This to me is treason but no one dare call it treason. His third strike was in lying under oath and committing perjury. We're not speaking of a Mafia gangster here we're speaking of the highest office in the LAND. We have become a laughing stock to all other nations in the world and the way that they deal with us proves this point. I'm sure that if his name were Hitler he would act no differently. In the game of life, as in baseball, three strikes and you're out. I can only pray that the good Lord gives the American people enough sense to vote that entire group of drunken drivers out of office.

Thank you for taking time to read this. I tried to keep this as factual as possible. My greatest fears are that my children, but more so, my grandchildren, will be fighting a war against our own technology. May God protect the United States of America and all the brave men and women who serve in the military. Once again thank you.

I.D. 'Inny' Cerbini, F2c, USNR - Retired
(c) June 22, 1999 - All Rights Reserved
None of the proceeding maybe copied, printed or used
in anyway without the express permission of the author.

The Yeoman's Note:

I need to make mention here (February, 2011) that our good Shipmate and friend, Inny Cerbini has passed from this life on 30 January 2011. He was a good man, and a very good friend of the USS Hancock CV/CVA-19 Memorial. His bright, upbeat and positive outlook could get rid of any gray day, and he contributed immensely to this Website. I had the opportunity to meet Inny and his wonderful family back in 2002 when they all came down to Orlando, Florida to visit Disneyworld. I was living at the time in Bradenton, Florida, and I drove over there to meet and have breakfast with them. He was very proud of his family, and I found that the closeness of his family showed to me, the mettel of the man who was their father, along with their mother, Edda - a true American Family. This Family was proudly American and Inny couldn't say enough about his admiration of President Ronald Reagan. I just have to know that Inny no doubt was greatly troubled by the condition that our country is in today. Had I the chance, I would have assured him that there are enough Solid Patriots in this country, that this present situation is but a bump in the road of our National future.

Inny will be sadly missed, but we know nothing good ever dies and is gone forever. We will meet up again one day! Rest in Peace, Inny, dear friend,

Fair Winds and Following Seas, Shipmate!

Jake

Richard Cerbini is now a Contact Point for Inny's Family
If you wish to comment on Inny's Memoirs, please send
Rich Email - He will see that the family hears your remarks.

Contact Rich Cerbini
on Inny's Memoirs

Email

More from Inny: Inny has a run-in with the Engineering Officer, and also his story of holding the distinction of being the only Sailor in the Navy to run through the Queen Mary. Go Here.

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