- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

PARAGOULD, Ark. (AP) - Ulysses Sylvester ‘U.S.’ Cribbs, 89, remembers his service in World War II fondly.

However, with the slightest hint of heartache, Cribbs recalls the wartime action that almost cost him his life and how the United States government has failed to recognize his service 69 years after the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.

Cribbs was born in Greene County near Evening Star in 1925. “I was born and raised here in Greene County, just up by Friendship Road,” Cribbs said. “When I was 18 years old I was working in a shipyard in Mobile, Alabama and my friend told me I should join the Merchant Marine service since I’d make a lot more money.”

Cribbs agreed and joined the service and was soon transported to St. Petersburg, Florida where he was trained to be a cook and a baker, the Paragould Daily Press reported (https://bit.ly/1svL339 ).

“They threw us on a Liberty Ship and off we were to Scotland with a load of artillery shells and tanks,” Cribbs said. “This was just a week or two after the D-Day invasion in June of 1944.

“We then sailed to England and the officer on the ship said, ‘We need a loader on one of the 20mm anti-aircraft guns, why don’t one of you Merchant seamen say yes?’ Anyways, I agreed to this and jumped right in,” said Cribbs. “We were on the Liberty Ship SS John A. Treutlen and soon after I took on the role of being a loader on the gun, general quarters was sounded.

“I grabbed my tin hat and ran up to the poop deck and when everyone was up there we didn’t see any planes or anything, but a Liberty Ship near us was sinking,” Cribbs said. “You could see it was sinking at the bow and the whole stern was sticking up out of the English Channel.”

Cribbs recalled that moments later, his ship was rocked by an enormous explosion, which threw Cribbs down onto the floor of the gun tub. “We got hit by an acoustic mine, which was set off by the ship’s vibrations in the channel,” Cribbs said.

Recent analysis of the SS John A. Treutlen wreck site by British Isles Hydrographic Service suggests that the ship was not hit by a mine, but rather struck by a torpedo shot from the German submarine U-984. This submarine was part of at least four Wolfpacks or patrol lines of German submarines and was responsible for action against five allied warships in 1944, four of which were total losses. U-984 was sunk in the North Atlantic by depth charges dropped by a patrol of Canadian destroyers and all hands were lost.

“After I was blown down after the explosion, I really didn’t think I was hurt,” Cribbs said. “I remember gasping for a breath and I guess my adrenaline was just kicking in and I didn’t really feel anything.”

Cribbs was rescued by a nearby ship and it was not until later that Cribbs learned he had a fractured back.

“The nurses were all giving me lots of morphine to get through the pain,” Cribbs said. “But when they all learned that I was in the Merchant Marine, a civilian and not in the military, I was moved from the Navy hospital there somewhere in England to an Army hospital ward for the wounded.”

“I was in the hospital for a long time and they put me in a big, stiff cast to help me heal,” Cribbs said. “I remember waking up one time and just hearing this guy scream and scream and scream. He was screaming bloody murder. I saw he was a German soldier and they were putting some kind of bandage around his neck. I never found out what happened to him.”

Cribbs was eventually flown back to the United States where he was placed in a hospital in Staten Island, New York. Later, Cribbs went through rehabilitation for his back in New York City.

“When I was all done, I was mad,” Cribbs said. “I believe they cheated me out of what I really deserved and they gave me $300 and a little medal and said, ‘Go home.’”

Cribbs said when he returned home to Arkansas in late 1944, he had no intention in returning to any theatre of war with the Merchant Marine.

“They were a rough group of guys and I didn’t want to go back,” Cribbs said. “So, I naturally got drafted into the Navy.”

Cribbs entered the Seabees, a component of the Navy’s construction battalion and was shipped to Okinawa Island in the Pacific theatre approximately 450 miles south of Japan.

“We were in Okinawa and this was of course after the big battle there and everything, just everything was destroyed,” Cribbs said. “I was there with my two brothers and there was always a lot going on.”

Cribbs remembered one night when a Japanese plane was spotted over the island.

“They sounded General Quarters and said for none of the ships to fire in the sky or have their lights on, but that the anti-aircraft guns and spotlights on the island would take care of the situation,” Cribbs said. “Sure enough here come these big lights shooting up all over the island and ‘Boom!’ anti-aircraft artillery was just flying all over the air from one end of the island to the other. It was really something to see.”

Cribbs remained with the Navy for an additional six months after the surrender of Japan in September of 1945.

“When I was done they shipped us back to California and in San Francisco Bay all the ships were lining up with the girls waving at us and the bands playing. We then took a troop train to Kansas City then to Memphis where they discharged us and gave us a little bit of money to take the bus wherever we were going and that was that,” Cribbs said. “I came back home to Paragould because all of this time I never felt I was in a place where God wanted me to be.”

Cribbs finished school and eventually attended Arkansas State University for two years. Soon after Cribbs began teaching and coaching at Lakeside High School and later Greene County Tech. He worked for a few years as a chemist at a steel foundry in St. Louis before attending seminary college and becoming a pastor, a role that he still serves today.

“I’m not asking for anything, I just want the military to recognize the service I gave as a wounded seaman in a military action,” Cribbs said. “I never received a Purple Heart or anything, but we did the same thing as those guys in the Navy and I think it is time we get a little bit of thanks for that.”

___

Information from: Paragould Daily Press, https://www.paragoulddailypress.com/

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