Wally Cash, 93, of Hilliard is among the ever-shrinking ranks of World War II veterans in the United States.
Cash spent two years and 10 months in the U.S. Navy and concluded his active service before he was 21 years old.
He was a 17-year-old senior at Grandview Heights High School when he enlisted in the Navy in August 1943. He later earned his high school diploma after his military discharge.
“My parents encouraged me to (join the military), but when I brought home the papers for them to sign, they didn’t want to, (but) they reluctantly signed,” Cash said.
Cash said he was motivated to enlist after hearing stories from some of his classmates who had graduated several years earlier, as well as from neighbors who had returned home after service.
“(Grandview Heights was) a close community,” he said.
After enlisting, Cash was sent to the Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago.
“The first thing they told us was to shave every day, and I thought, ‘Why do I need to shave? I wasn’t growing hair yet,’ ” said Cash, adding that he and other recruits also had to work around a Hollywood film shoot while they completed basic training.
After eight weeks at the training station, Cash was sent to sonar school in San Diego.
“I took tests (at the training center), and the Navy determined I was best suited for sonar school," he said. “You didn’t have a choice; you go.”
Although Cash might have been well-suited for hunting submarines, he soon learned he was not so well-suited for the sea.
“I got seasick,” he said.
Cash spent five weeks in sonar school in November and December 1943.
“We hunted a World War I submarine the Navy still had,” he said.
Cash said he had learned how to recognize submarines from other underwater objects and how submarines were moving but missed too many maneuvers.
“But I missed (some training) because I was seasick (and) was dropped,” Cash said.
In lieu of tracking submarines, Cash was sent to a naval ship-repair station, also in San Diego, where he spent most of 1944.
“Because I already had security clearance from my time in sonar school, I worked with electronics,” filling orders for parts and delivering them to ships that made the request, he said.
In November 1944, Cash was assigned to the U.S. Naval Advance Base Personnel Depot in San Bruno, California, for a one-month stint.
The Navy crafted the base from a former horse racetrack, he said.
For the ensuing five months, Cash participated in combat training.
“We drilled, (ran) an obstacle course (and learned to) strip a rifle,” Cash said.
In December 1944, Cash was sent to a naval repair base on the island of Guam.
By then, Allied forces had advanced west far enough across the Pacific Ocean to make it a challenge to get damaged ships to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii for repair.
To that end, the Navy had sent through the Panama Canal the material to build a naval repair base on Guam.
It was an arduous five-week journey from San Bruno to Guam (via Pearl Harbor), Cash recalled. It was a troop ship to Guam without air-conditioning, and the bunks were five decks below, he said.
“So we would go up at night and sleep on the (top). ... It was a lot cooler up there than it was five decks below,” said Cash, adding that sometimes passing Marines on board would startle them with orders to put on life belts.
While on Guam, when Cash wasn’t working at the naval repair base, he would work in the galley. But he also found time to explore the island and make friends, including, to some extent, Japanese prisoners of war.
“It was frowned upon” to do so, but Cash said he still mingled with Japanese POWs.
“They weren’t trying to run away,” he said. “They had three meals a day.”
Cash said he had learned to speak a little Japanese, including how to count, for the purpose of bartering.
“I would trade things with them and even buy a few things,” including drawings and artwork that Cash said he wished he had kept. He still has one drawing, he said.
The POWs recognized him, Cash said, and even raised the eyebrows of guards when on his approach one day, the POWs bowed their heads and said to him, “Kon’nichiwa, changey boy.”
Kon’nichiwa means “good afternoon.”
“Changey boy” was the name the POWs gave him for trading and bartering, Cash said.
Although he was stationed in a remote expanse of the South Pacific Ocean, a radio station on Guam kept Navy personnel up to date with news from the war, he said.
In June, on what would become V-E Day (Victory in Europe), when the war in the European theater ended, Cash recalled the commissary officers ordered the cooks to prepare steaks for everyone who had worked in the galley.
Cash was sent home in July 1946, a little earlier than he had expected.
“I thought I was in until I was 21 (because I had enlisted as a minor), but someone realized that I should have (already) been discharged and I was sent home,” said Cash, who arrived back in the United States via San Francisco. Five weeks later, he was in Columbus via a train.
But his time in the U.S. Navy wasn’t quite finished, he said.
Cash subsequently served 44 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve, achieving the rank of master chief petty officer, the highest possible rank among enlisted personnel.
His decorations include the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
As a civilian, Cash and his wife, Barbara, a U.S. Navy Reserve veteran, operated the Hilliard Food Pantry for 20 years.
Cash is a member of the Hilliard Kiwanis Club, American Legion Memorial Post 614 and the Hilliard United Methodist Church.
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