- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - Gerard Sirois Sr. figures he’s a lucky man.

Training as a gunner’s mate in the Navy in World War II, Sirois was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a lieutenant, making conversation, when a sudden explosion threw shrapnel in every direction. As he turned to tell the officer that a gun barrel had just blown off, he could see blood flowing from the lieutenant’s neck.

Minutes before they had been chatting. Now the man next to him was dead.

“I was right alongside him and I was all right. That’s why I was lucky,” Sirois said.

At 89, Sirois can still remember that incident, though some details like the exact name of the place have started to fade from his mind. It happened during training with a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun at a Navy base somewhere in the south, he says.

Sirois shook off the shock of the incident and kept going, serving four years in the Navy during the war before returning home to Waterbury. Luck kept him safe. A teenager’s curiosity about the world kept him going.

His story is similar to that of thousands of veterans who served during World War II and many others who have served since. Like many veterans, he never asked for help until recently, when he contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty, D-Conn., about pension benefits.

Esty’s office worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs to arrange the benefits that help him get the round-the-clock care he needs.

Esty said she wishes more veterans asked for help in getting benefits they’ve earned by serving their country.

For Sirois, memories of the war are decades away, the amazing adventures of a young man from a different life. On a recent day, he sat at a dining table at The Village at East Farms, the assisted-living facility where he now lives, and shared those war stories with his three adult sons, Gerard Jr., Thomas and Kenneth Sirois.

They’ve heard them many times and know every glorious detail.

“How about the time you were steering the ship and you went off course?” Kenneth reminded his dad.

“Oh yeah, way off course,” Sirois said. Somehow he turned it 90 degrees in the wrong direction.

Sirois joined the Navy on Nov. 2, 1942, lying about his age. He was 17. His education at Crosby High School would have to wait until after the war.

He said he joined because his brother Roland, a Navy career man who was five years older, told him to.

Action for Sirois started with his memorable training accident, with shrapnel all around him causing mayhem.

“I was very, very lucky,” Sirois said. “Things that happened around me didn’t happen to me.”

Sirois served most of the war in an LST, a Landing Ship, Tank, which was used to carry men, ammunition and supplies into the war zone. He remembers the months he served in the Pacific, around the Japanese island of Okinawa. His LST and others in the 60-ship fleet used to hide from the Japanese bombing planes by making smoke using special fuel and generators, he said.

For months he served in the Pacific, dodging an enemy that stalked hundreds of Navy ships by air.

One of his most moving memories was Japan in the aftermath of the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that marked Japan’s defeat. His face turned serious and his eyes widened as he told the story.

He was on patrol duty on the streets of Japan, a .45-caliber pistol in his holster. As he walked, three Japanese approached him and bowed their heads low.

“I stood there. I was shocked,” Sirois said.

There were other times of misadventure that still make Sirois laugh heartily, like the time that a supervisor handed him a telegram from back home.

His mind was racing as he opened it. Any Navy man in his shoes would have thought the worst, tragedy at home, perhaps.

He motioned with his hands as though unfolding a piece of paper, then broke out into a hearty laugh. His sons joined in.

Sirois was handsome, with dark hair, expressive eyes and a smile that still lights up a room, and he was popular with the ladies. On that day in the middle of the Pacific, he held proof in his hands.

“Lewis Mills pin up boy,” the telegram said.

He figured he got the title through the efforts of a girlfriend to whom he had given his picture. She must have entered him in a contest that he had apparently won.

“I was so embarrassed,” Sirois said.

Sirois returned home to Waterbury in January 1946, leaving his Navy days behind for good. The next day he met the girl his sister had pestered him about writing to and he always refused.

“She was a beautiful girl,” he said of Stella, who became his wife just over a year later. They were married in February 1947 at St. Patrick’s Church in Waterbury’s Brooklyn neighborhood. With a new wife and, soon after marriage, a baby, Sirois took on a young man’s responsibilities. With Stella they raised their three sons in Wolcott. He studied at night to get that high school diploma he skipped out on when he joined the Navy.

One day after he got off work at a junk yard in Waterbury’s South End, Stella encouraged him to apply at Connecticut Light & Power on Freight Street. “She came with me to make sure I went,” Sirois said.

He started as a laborer and over more than four decades moved through the ranks, retiring as a field supervisor of general operations.

Today Sirois has advanced stage cancer. He knows what that means.

“I don’t know that we have a year,” his son Thomas Sirois said.

The elder Sirois likes The Village, where he has lived since November, but still allows himself to dream of a simpler and better place.

“I always think I’m going home,” he said.


Information from: Republican-American, https://www.rep-am.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide