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"It Was Personal": A World War II Veteran Reflects on His Service

On Tuesday, 74 war veterans and their guardians will lift off from the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport headed to the nation's capital. It's called an "Honor Flight" and it's designed to give veterans a day in Washington DC to visit the memorials.

World War II Veteran and retired Circuit Judge John P. “Jack” Griffin and his son, Tampa attorney Chris Griffin, will be on that plane.

Griffin has told his son several stories about his time in the Navy. Yet, when they sat down for an interview with WUSF, Chris Griffin heard stories his dad had never shared.

Griffin served as a pharmacist’s mate aboard LSM 185 - that stands for Landing Ship Medium. They transported troops and supplies throughout the Pacific Ocean.

“We weren’t a fighting ship,” he said. “The only casualties we had were self-inflicted like the guy who cut himself on a machete.”

He was the only medical man aboard ship. His “surgery” was in the hallway of the ship. His “operating table” was a clerk’s desk covered with a sterile sheet, although he said there was really nothing sterile aboard.

But for ten days, Griffin was reassigned to a Marine unit during the invasion of Okinawa.  

“It was personal. That’s the only thing I can say,” he said. “The war was brought home.”

He said sounds from the opening scene in Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” were so realistic to what it was like on Okinawa that he had to leave the theater during the invasion scene.

“When bullets are flying, I’ll just put it that way. You recognized sounds,” he said. “You can tell if a bullet hit at a glancing blow or dead on and you can tell when it hits flesh.”

Griffin is looking forward to visiting the World War II Memorial with his son. They will be aboard for the sixth West Central Florida Honor Flight scheduled to take off Tuesday morning.

The organization invites the public to join in and come down to the “welcome home” celebration for the WWII and Korean veterans. Usually, several hundred people show up.

The return Honor Flight is expected to land at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, 12 June, at the St. Petersburg Clearwater Airport.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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