Members of the Greatest Generation, those who grew up in the Great Depression and fought to defend the United States during World War II, had often been just 17 or 18.
Too young to vote, too young to drink, but not too young to fight for their country.
Edwin L. Hollins of Bradenton was 17 and still in high school when he left his native Trenton, N.J., and went to Philadelphia to get his physical examination and be accepted into the U.S. Coast Guard.
“They let me go home to graduate from high school and a couple of days later, I was on a train going back to Philly to be sworn in,” Hollins said.
After boot camp at Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, and six months of radio operator school in the Hotel Morton in Atlantic City, N.J., he was assigned to the USS Harveson, a destroyer escort manned entirely by Coast Guard personnel.
The Harveson would be his home for nearly two years. The Harveson and five other warships in his division provided security for convoys averaging 55 freighters and tankers sailing between the United States and Great Britain.
Eight times, the Harveson made the perilous voyage across the North Atlantic and then back again with returning convoys. The convoys steamed to London, Londonderry, Glasgow, Cardiff, Liverpool or South Hampton.
“There was one destroyer escort at the bow of the convoy, one at the stern and two on each side,” Hollins said. “We had a lot of contact with suspected German submarines, and dropped a lot of depth charges. We had a couple of possible hits, but never a confirmed hit.”
Hollins counts himself lucky because, before joining the Harveson, another American destroyer escort was torpedoed off Greenland, and lost most of its crew.
“It broke in half. Most of the crew probably froze in the water,” he said.
“I served in a radio room, maybe as large as this kitchen,” Hollins reflected, gesturing in his west Bradenton home. “There were always two of us on duty, and we sat there and took coded messages for ships in our convoy or one of the escorts.
“Everything came in five-letter codes. The communications officer had the key to a secure room and could go in there to decode a message,” Hollins said.
I think about it all the time. I am very proud that I served, and thankful that I came home.
After Germany surrendered in 1945, the Harveson and her crew were reassigned to the Pacific to prepare for the invasion of Japan.
Previously the Haveson had been primarily armed to repulse submarine attacks, but it now bristled with anti-aircraft guns to fight off kamikaze attacks and other Japanese warplanes.
The Harveson was in training at Pearl Harbor in preparation for the invasion of Japan, when President Harry Truman ordered that atomic bombs be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There was an irony about the Harveson being in Hawaii at the end of the war, It was named for Lt. Herold Aloysius Harveson, one of more than 2,400 U.S. personnel killed in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.
With the surrender of the Japanese, the Harveson was assigned to escort 19 LSTs (landing ship tank) to Japan with occupying troops.
“You could row faster than an LST could move, and it took us 21 days,” he said.
After reaching Sasebo, Japan, near Nagasaki, on Sept. 24, the Harveson proceeded cautiously.
“We went to eight or 10 ports in Japan, and exploded a lot of mines, using our 20 mm guns,” he said.
The Harveson returned to the United States, landing first at San Diego, and then Charleston, S.C., via the Panama Canal. Hollins took 30 days’ leave and rejoined the Harveson in Jacksonville. In 1947, the Harveson was mothballed at Green Cove Springs, Fla.
But that wasn’t the end of the line for the ship.
The ship was retrofitted in 1950 as a new class of radar picket ship, and served until 1960 when it was once again decommissioned.
Starting in 1989, Hollins pulled together shipmates from the Harveson for an annual reunion, a tradition that continued for about 15 years.
“But our group got so small we had to discontinue our reunions. Time caught up with us,” Hollins, now 91, said. “I think about it all the time. I am very proud that I served, and thankful that I came home.”
After the war he met his future wife, Leanilda, at a dance. They have been married 69 years, have four children, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
“I went into the building trades after the war. I was a plumber all my life, then I became manager of my local union,” he said.
Early in their marriage, Ed Hollins didn’t talk much about the war, said Leanilda, or Lea, as she is best known to friends.
Even though she did not know Ed until after his war, she shares his pride in serving, and says she married the right man.
“I would do every year of it over again,” she said.
Leigh Hollins, who served 37 years as a firefighter and retired as a battalion chief for Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue, has always honored his father’s service, and plans to be with him at Coast Guard Station Cortez on Friday for a Veterans Day service.
“I am just extremely proud of him for defending the country during World War II,” the younger Hollins said. “I think it is extraordinary that he was on a Navy ship entirely manned by the Coast Guard.”
Veterans Day events in Manatee County
- The Manatee County Veterans Day service is set for Nov. 11. The parade will assemble at 8:40 a.m. at the county fairgrounds, 1303 13th Ave. W., and step out toward Sutton and Lamb Park in Palmetto at 10:15 a.m. The Veterans Day service is set for 11 a.m.
- A Tribute to America’s Heroes is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at Riverview Performing Arts Center, 1 Ram Way, Sarasota, and at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 at SCF’s Neel Performing Arts Center, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. Tickets: $20-$25, available at the door or at thepopsorchestra.org.
- A salute to veterans and flag pole dedication ceremony in the Anna Maria City Pier Park, located across from the pier is set for 1 p.m. Friday. There will be music provided by the Anna Maria Concert Orchestra and a color guard from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office along with a bag piper.
- The late Frank Towers will be honored for his heroism in saving 2,500 starving Jews during World War II at noon Friday in the Al Katz Center, 5710 Cortez Road, in the Cortez Commons shopping center, Bradenton. Also to be honored with a special ceremony and concert by Russian pianist Eleonora Lvov are American veterans of all the armed services and members of the Israeli Defense Forces in south Florida. For reservations, call Dr. Beverly Newman at 941-313-9239. Donations are greatly appreciated. www.alkatzcenter.org
- Gov. Rick Scott has declared Nov. 7-11 Paychecks for Patriots Week. The program matches up veterans with great careers in their communities. Information: floridajobs.org/paychecksforpatriots.
- Disabled American Veterans 18 will have a flag-burning ceremony, music and food 4-7 p.m. Saturdayat the post, 111 63rd Ave. E., Bradenton. The public is invited.
- Clear Sunset Car Wash, 6415 State Road 64 E., will wash all veterans vehicle free on Friday. In addition, Clear Sunset will donate $1 of every car wash to Homes for Our Troops.
- Little Caesars, 4919 14th St. W., Bradenton, and 573 10th Street East, Palmetto, is offereing a free lunch combo offered to all veterans and active duty military members all day on Veterans DayNo ID required.