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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2006
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Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com

Bob Strehle served aboard the USS David W. Taylor during World War II as a torpedo-tube operator. The ship took out a Japanese submarine while she was coming to the aid of the USS Riddle.
DAILY Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Bob Strehle served aboard the USS David W. Taylor during World War II as a torpedo-tube operator. The ship took out a Japanese submarine while she was coming to the aid of the USS Riddle.

Ex-torpedoman recalls WWII service

BROOKSVILLE — Sharp-witted and on solid ground at his home here between Priceville and Somerville, 83-year-old Bob Strehle Sr. speaks of seas made rough, tumbling and deadly by World War II.

Two of the more significant events occurred on Independence Day. He knows of one as a matter of record. The other is personal.

On July 4, 1942, four months before he joined the Navy, workers launched the USS David W. Taylor (DD-551), a Fletcher-class destroyer he would ride as torpedoman first class for more than three years. It showed Strehle the world.

Until enlisting, a 360-mile ride to a Pillsbury Co. feed mill job in Clinton, Iowa, was his longest journey from hometown Omaha, Neb. He had boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill., torpedo school at Newport, R.I., and advanced torpedo school at San Diego.

Now, he was ready for his first trip south, to Chickasaw, where Gulf Shipbuilding Co. constructed the Taylor and prepared it for commissioning.

"We boarded Sept. 18, 1943," Strehle said. "We went from Mobile Bay to a fitting-out yard in Charleston, S.C., where we test fired our guns. We did a shakedown cruise to the Bahamas."

Popping every kernel of corn in Nebraska while fireworks went off in Omaha wouldn't have caused as much commotion as July 4, 1944, in the Pacific.

The Taylor traveled in a convoy of escort carriers and fleet oilers supporting the Marianas operation.

Trouble

Just past 5 p.m., the USS Riddle reported contact with an enemy submarine and called the Taylor for assistance.

"Destroyer escorts don't have depth charges. They fire small rockets called hedgehogs," Strehle said.

"They have 24 in a gang box and can fire them all at once. But their purpose is more for surface contact, such as a small fishing ship. We executed an emergency turn."

At 6:26 the Taylor fired an 11-pattern depth charge, six 325-pound teardrop-shaped charges — three from either side of the ship — and five 500-pound "ash cans" from the stern.

"There was an intense explosion. Two minutes later, we lost contact with the sub, then sighted an oil slick and debris," Strehle said.

The sunken vessel turned out to be the I-10, one of the large subs of a class called the I-Boat, superior in range and firepower to the best American subs of the Pacific fleet at the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

During the heat of the Marianas campaign, submarine commander Admiral Sokichi Takagi moved his headquarters to Saipan to better manage the fleet.

The Japanese Navy sent the I-10 to rescue him. He committed suicide.

The mission wasn't over for the Taylor. On the morning of Jan. 5, 1945, she joined the bombardment of Chichi Jima in the Bonin Islands.

Shortly before 8, Strehle recalls a "terrific underwater explosion, probably a mine, that did considerable damage forward and flooding, trapping four men."

Officials ordered the Taylor to take a direct route to the nearest base.

"We couldn't go forward. We backed alone to Saipan. Traveling at about 5 knots top speed, it took us three days," Strehle said.

"We entered a portable dry dock about noon Jan. 8. After the water drained out of our ship, we went into the magazine and retrieved the four sailors. We buried them in the Second Marine Cemetery on Saipan. They were our ship's only losses of the war."

Strehle said he joined the Navy because of a cousin who served on the USS Marblehead, a cruiser.

"It got sunk from under him and he came home," Strehle said. "He told me that there is one thing about the Navy, 'You've got three square meals and a clean bed to sleep in every night. You might have to swim a little bit. But you ain't crawling around in the mud.' "

Strehle and four brothers served during the war.

"Jack, Bernard and I were on subs," he said.

"Phil was on a PT boat. Frank, who lives in Chula Vista, Calif., served about four months in the Air Force before getting an honorable discharge. He is 6 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 240 pounds and wears a size 16 shoe. They told him, 'You're very good, but we can't use you. We're not sure we're gonna have clothes and shoes to fit you all the time.' "

What came afterwards

The Navy discharged Strehle on Jan. 12, 1946. He married his wife, Sally, that summer. He held several management positions for Pillsbury and other companies before arriving in Decatur in 1974 as plant manager of ConAgra flourmill.

"I put a snow shovel on my shoulder and walked down Sixth Avenue," he said. "Someone walked up and said, 'What in the world is that?' I said a snow shovel. He said, 'I never saw one of them.' And I said, 'That's why I want to stay.' "

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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