Reading’s Boys #2: August-September 1943

Robert Colbert Rooney (August-September 1943)

It would seem that nearly every boy in Reading registered for the draft on the same day: October 16, 1940. It also seemed like they would all go to the same location to register: the Lafayette building in Wakefield. Robert Rooney was no different. Born in 1906, he was not as young as many of the other people that were filling out that same card. His country would not call him into service until nearly two years later on September 28, 1942. Robert Rooney was to join the Navy. 

In February of 1943, Robert was assigned to USS LST 378 as an electrician’s mate and stayed with her for a period of about six months. In August, LST 378 swapped crews with USS LST 209 in Tunisia. It was at that point that I could begin tracking Robert. And things got interesting for Robert relatively quickly. USS LST 209 was supposed to return to a port in friendly territory to receive additional supplies but was forced to divert due to an urgent request for LSTs to help ferry supplies from Sicily, which had already been captured, to the port of Taranto, Italy, where British airborne troops were currently engaging the enemy.

Perhaps Robert was excited by this change of plans. Perhaps the other men around him were too. Maybe they were bored by the monotony of constantly sailing from one place, spending days loading up supplies, going to a new place, unloading all of it, and then just repeating the process all over again. However, in the grand scheme of things, these deliveries were absolutely vital in assisting the ground forces. 

The operation they assisted with is known as Operation Slapstick, and it was created on short notice after the Italian government offered to open up two ports to the allies; one of them being Taranto. The landing of the British 1st Airborne Division met no resistance until they began to push farther inland and were met by Germany’s own airborne troops. The fighting was not very fierce and the Germans were pushed back. I suppose I’m biased, but I’d say we have our Robert Rooney, of 15 Willow Street to thank for helping get those young Brits the supplies they needed to keep pushing forward. 

Raymond William Hillman (August-September 1943)

When we left Raymond, he had just returned to the United States after finishing operations in Sicily. This portion of Raymond’s service I do not share with you because he was in the heat of battle, in danger, or the like. For the next ten months, Raymond would see parts of the world that he may not have even read about. There is not much information on when each of these voyages I will tell you about took place, so bear that in mind. 

The USS Susan B. Anthony’s new job would be ferrying men and materials to ports across the Atlantic. She steamed out of New York Harbor sometime in August. Anthony made stops in the ports of Hvalfjörður and Reykjavík, Iceland. She stopped in Belfast, Northern Ireland; Holy Loch, Gourock, and Glasgow in Scotland; Mumbles, Newport, and Milford Haven in Wales. It makes me wonder if Raymond ever did look up into the dark, Icelandic sky, and see with his own eyes, the Northern Lights. What thoughts were running through his head? Did he even have time to take it all in before getting back to work? Did he and his fellow sailors ever come out onto the deck together and laugh and smile? I bet some of them wondered how a world so beautiful could be involved in such an ugly business… 

Like many young men, Raymond would see the world during his time in the service. Whether they saw the best of humanity, the worst of it, or a mix of both, is up to the person seeing it and up to luck. 

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