Charley Brooking spent the latter part of World War II on a PT boat, cruising the treacherous waters of the Pacific ocean, fighting the Japanese.
“PT boats were involved with every major landing with the Navy,” he said proudly.
Brooking, 92, reflected on his Naval career, which stretched from 1944 to 1946.
Serving as a gunner’s mate second, he saw his share of action from a PT boat, but felt “very, very lucky” to have survived it all.
The Bloomsburg native wanted to join the Marines, but his father talked him into signing up instead for the Navy.
Fighting men of the Marines and Army, he told his son, sleep in foxholes.
“In the Navy, you have a dry bunk and three square meals,” he further advised him.
Brooking was just 17, and a high school drop-out, when he went off to Sampson, New York, for basic training.
Soon, he was on his way to PT boat training in Rhode Island.
“When I saw these PT boats, I wondered what I had gotten into,” he said.
The boats were small, perhaps 70 to 80 feet long, and made of plywood.
Placed on ships which took them to combat areas and other locations, they were manned by 11 men, including two officers.
They were equipped with anti-aircraft and machine guns.
“We had to know how to take apart and put together all the artillery,” he said.
PT boats were also armed with torpedoes, many of which Brooking said, “were duds.”
Patrols were conducted at night to better allow for sneak attacks on Japanese vessels, which often went to Pacific islands on re-supply missions.
He said he was part of duty that included shooting at the boats.
“We sunk quite a few of those ships including barges,” he said.
Radio communications, he said, were very poor, and it wasn’t uncommon for the Japanese to intercept messages.
Brooking said his boat was never hit during his approximately one year of duty in the Pacific, although he had some “close calls.”
He conceded there was a lot of combat.
“You like to forget that,” he said.
Brooking said the most frightening aspect of the duty were the kamikaze planes the Japanese used to attack boats.
“You didn’t think about dying,” he said. “All you thought about was doing your duty.”
Brooking did suffer a severe injury when a machine gun blew up in his hands, hospitalizing him for several weeks.
He said many people don’t seem to realize that PT boats were such a big part of World War II.
Following his Pacific tour, Brooking was stationed in Miami.
It was 1945, with the war winding down, and Brooking thought he might eventually be headed for Japan.
But then the U.S. dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the surrender by Japan soon followed.
“Otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened,” he said.
Brooking left active duty in 1946.
He spent time in Bridgeport, Connecticut, toiling at an airplane assembly plant and later worked in California.
Brooking married in 1948 and, with his wife, raised one son.
They settled in Bloomsburg, where Brooking worked for Henrie Printing.
“I was a printer and later became production manager,” he said.
Brooking also ran a couple of restaurants in Bloomsburg and flew planes as an amateur pilot.
For a time, Brooking lived on a farm outside Muncy.
As he prepares to celebrate his 93rd birthday, Brooking, remains clear-eyed and sharp-minded, despite suffering six heart attacks and having become recently widowed.
Looking back on his military service, he said, “I would say it was quite an experience and helped me grow up to be a man.”
The Navy, he said, taught him how to handle himself.