Source: Newspaper clipping, no date on paper. Article states it was from the 1987 reunion held in Philadelphia, PA.
Article written by Michael Mentzer, Reporter Features Editor
Ship’s reunion transport 4 local men back in time
Three men from Fond du Lac, one from St. Cloud and another from Plymouth are bonded together by a wartime coincidence and a present-day reunion that takes on profound significance for them as the years pass.
They are men of the USS Salt Lake City, a US Navy Heavy cruiser that propelled them into a series of WWII battles and ultimately changed their lives, just as were the lives of a whole generation of Americans who came of age in wartime.
Fate and blind chance have brought them together in Fond du Lac, the native city of one of them and the adopted “hometown” of two others.
Four of the five, Al Wiltzius, Mac McAlister & Carl Smedberg of Fond du Lac, and Bob Kohlmann of St. Cloud….attended the eight reunion of the SLC crew in Philadelphia in August. They were the only Wisconsin representatives at the reunion, which included men from almost every state in the union. Joe Kubish, RM2c
of Plymouth, also would have been there except for an illness in his family that demanded his presence at home.
For Wiltzius, it was his second ship’s reunion. The August convention was a first for McAlister, Smedberg & Kohlmann. All vow to attend the next reunion in 1989 in Colorado. All agreed the reunion enraptures a special significance that can only be experienced, never explained.
“It’s something you can’t explain in words,” says Wiltzius, who was instrumental in convincing his old shipmates to attend.
Wiltzius, the only Marine among the Navy contingent, and his wife traveled to San Diego to attend the 1985 reunion, not knowing what to expect. “I was a little doubtful about what was in store,” he remembers. “I wondered if I would know anyone and what it would be like after all these years. But it was fantastic.”
Wiltzius’ trip to the reunion in 1985 was preceded by a coincidence that he describes as “almost unbelievable.”
One evening not long before the 1985 reunion, Wiltzius and his longtime friend and neighbor Mac McAlister were talking about retirement plans, when Wiltzius mentioned an invitation he had received for the gathering in San Diego. McAlister said he also had received an invitation.
That was the first time they realized that they had served together aboard the Salt Lake City in WWII. “We’ve been playing dart ball together for sever or eight years and we never knew we had served together, “says McAlister.
“We just couldn’t believe it,” adds Wiltzius, who lives only a couple blocks from McAlister. “We had talked about being in the service, but we never realized that we were on the same ship at the same time.”
After discussing their duty assignments aboard ship, the two realized they were probably side-by-side at times during naval battles. Witlzius, the captain’s orderly, was stationed near the captain while McAlister wore headphones to relay messages to the captain during battle.
Waltzes & McAlister were among 1,100 enlisted men who served aboard the SLC. Wiltzius went aboard in Nov. of 1940 and McAlister the following year. Both vividly remember watching helplessly while on maneuvers in the Pacific as Japanese planes flew overhead on their way to Pearl Harbor early in the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
Following the 1985 reunion, Wiltzius and McAlister were surprised to learn of three other local men who had served aboard the SLC. Smedberg and Kohlmann knew each other and were aware they had served together. Kohlmann, a native of St. Cloud, recalls, “I knew Swede Smedberg because he married a St. Cloud girl.” Kohlmann also points out that Kubish, who now resides in Plymouth, traveled to St. Cloud after the war to visit him and ended up marrying “another girl from St. Cloud.”
Kohlmann served aboard the SLC from March of 1943 to Jan. 1 of 1946, while Smedberg served aboard ship in 1944-45.
Kohlmann, who served in the ship’s radio division, and Smedberg, a gunnery officer, credit Wiltzius with convincing them to attend the reunion. Kohlmann organized a reunion of radiomen within the overall reunion in Philadelphia. “There were 10 of us from the radio division. We had a great time. We’re going again,” he adds.
McAlister notes, “As time goes by, something like this becomes more important. I think it’s something you have to experience yourself before you can understand it.”
Smedberg adds, “It’s like being taken back in time.”
“When you get older, these things become special,” says Kohlmann. “When you’re on a ship like we were, and you’re in a war, well… what can I say.”
Wiltzius concludes, “There is no limit to the good feeling you get from something like this.”
Each takes pride in the performance of their ship in WWII battles. “She was a fighting ship,” says Wiltzius, recalling the speed and efficiency of its battery.
The Salt lake City and its crew were decorated at least three times for outstanding performance battle --- the Battle of Cape Esperance in Oct. of 1942, Battle off the Komandorski Islands in March of 1943, and Iwo Jima & Okinawa, February through May of 1945.
The ship distinguished itself in Pacific raids, at Guadalcanal, the Aleutians, Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands and liberation of the Philippines.
The ship’s record recalls a special time for each man. Each explains in his own special way that it was a special time filled with profound changes that are best shared with men of their vintage who where there.
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