Letter from Veteran James M. O'Hara, written on November 24th, 1999 to Debbie Christie Rogers, the great niece of Veteran Billy Joe Boegen who died in 1945.

Dear Debbie

I just cannot say how delighted I am to receive your letter. Yes, Billy Joe and I were very good friends. We were shipmates for almost three years and had lots of good times together. Although we spent most of this time at sea, there was ample time for liberties and parties. (Liberty-Navy word for shore leave).

Nobody enjoyed a good time on the beach (ashore) than Billy Joe. In his lighter moments, he would often call me "O Harry". When he would use that phrase, or name, I knew we would have a lot of fun. His usual expression was "O Harry, lets stay on the Sunny Side of the Street". Translation- lets avoid trouble. Billy Joe was the perfect liberty partner.

1. He was very good looking. He had a head full of black, curly hair and always wore a smile. A BIG TEXAN SMILE.

2. He always made me think of what a Texan would look like. Tall, about 6' 2" or so, broad shoulders and narrow waist. Very friendly with those around him. Particularly girls.

3. He always seemed to have a knack for knowing were the interesting places to were located.

I first met B. J. in about Jan. of 1943 aboard the U.S.S. Salt Lake City, CA25. A Heavy Cruiser, in Pearl Harbor. He came aboard the SLC from the U.S.S. Yorktown, a carrier. Those survivors were reassigned to ships at Pearl Harbor and B. J. with others, came to the SLC. We were in the 9th Division, a 40mm anti-aircraft weapon. His job was that of a gunners mate. This ship was mentioned in Tom Brokaws best seller "The Greatest Generation".

We were then transferred in about Sept. of 43 to the U.S.S. Cassin Young. This was a brand new destroyer, that after shake down cruises, we sailed from San Francisco to join the Pacific Fleet in Feb. of "44". During this period we spent lots of our spare time together. Aboard ship, B.J. was in charge of the 20mm anti-aircraft guns on the starboard side of the ship. They are still there today.

I'm not sure, but I think B. J. was on the U.S.S. West Virginia that was sunk on Dec. 7th at Pearl Harbor. He was then transferred to the Yorktown that was sunk during the battle of Midway Island.

In view of the above he certainly served his country long and well. I have thought of B. J. often over the intervening years and have many good memories of his companionship. When L.B. J. was President, I always thought he reminded me of Billy Joe, particularly when he smiled.

I was not aboard when he was killed but I have it on good authority he was very badly wounded by shrapnel and passed away a few days later on a hospital ship.

I have spoken to a few of the men on board and they all agreed on one thing. "Billy Joe sure was a very friendly shipmate".

As for myself, I was born and raised in the City of Chicago. We lived in a neighborhood known as Austin around North Ave. and Austin Blvd. I was discharged from the Navy in November of 1945, Bos'n Mate 2c.

I met a wonderful girl and we were married in St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Oak Park, IL. July 1952. We have five children and thirteen grandchildren, all in good health thank God.

I'm sorry to say that I do not have a picture of B. J. I talked to one of the men (Jim Marrs) and he has a picture of the Gunners Mate gang and we hope that B.J. will be in the picture. These pictures are not always complete because of some being on watch or otherwise engaged. During the war, camera's where not allowed so very few pictures are around.

I do have a video that a couple of men put together and if you would like to watch it, I'll be happy to send it to you. Some of the battle damage scenes are not for the faint of heart, so be forewarned.

I hope the above has been of some help in knowing, as we use to say in the old neighborhood, "he was one heck of a swell guy".

Sincerely Yours,
James M. O'Hara


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