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.|
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
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
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".
James M. O'Hara