A Three-War Veteran’s Explosive Career

By Mike Morris March 15, 2011 10:39

Larry Singley

It was May 1943, and Larry Singley had just enlisted in the Navy – four days before his 18th birthday.

With World War II under way, Singley was immediately sent to Florida for boot camp. So quickly, in fact, that his mother had to pick up his high school diploma at a graduation ceremony the following month in Selma, Alabama.

“I chose to work on aviation ordnance,” says Singley, who now lives in Jamestown but still speaks with a Southern accent. “That was an interesting job because it wasn’t just sitting at a desk somewhere doing paperwork. I was up there loading bombs, missiles and torpedoes.”

From boot camp, Singley was sent to Norman, Oklahoma, for aviation ordnance schooling. From there, he went to Seattle, where he boarded a ship to Guam. Thus began a 21-year Naval career that spanned three wars — World War II, Korean and Vietnam.

He arrived on Guam after Americans had wrested control of the island from the Japanese in July of 1944, in a protracted battle in which 18,000 Japanese died. But even after the war had ended, it was a dangerous place. A Japanese soldier who had somehow eluded capture killed one of Singley’s fellow servicemen long after the empire had surrendered.

“It scared me,” he remembers. “I knew the guy real well and it was a shame to lose him. I was glad to get out of Guam. ”

Within a few years, Singley was at war again – in Korea.

For Singley, who will turn 86 on May 21, memories of the early 1950s conflict are the most vivid.

The war – a result of the division of Korea in the aftermath of World War II – found Singley and his fellow servicemen fighting against Communist North Korea.

He loaded arms and equipment aboard the USS Princeton, an aircraft carrier stationed off the coast of South Korea. He worked mainly with AD-1 Skyraiders, dive bombers which could hold several rockets and 2,000-pound bombs.

And, it turns out, at least one kitchen sink.

“Our captain said to us, ‘You boys are throwing everything at them but the kitchen sink,’ and that gave me an idea,” remembers Singley. “I went out and bought a kitchen sink in Yokosuka, Japan, and fastened it to the bottom of a 1,000-pound bomb that we dropped on North Korea in 1952.”

In Singley’s hallway photo gallery, a black-and-white picture shows a Navy admiral, the ship’s captain and the dive bomber’s pilot posing with Singley and the bomb-bearing sink. On it are scrawled words that drove home what was both obvious and hilarious: “THE KITCHEN SINK. ”

But four torpedoes brought Singley and his crew one of the war’s key victories. Carried by four bombers, those torpedoes knocked out the 240-foot thick Hwachon Dam, making headlines in American newspapers. The destruction of the dam was significant, as North Korea had manipulated its floodgates and spillways to flood downstream areas, disrupting U.S. attempts to advance northwards.

“All four planes hit that dam and they destroyed it,” says Singley. “We were the only Navy fleet that launched torpedoes in that war.”

Singley puts fuse in the nose of a 2,000-pound bomb aboard an AD Skyraider

As the Vietnam war began, Singley was assigned to the USS Ranger, the largest of 10 aircraft carriers on which he served during his Navy career. Sailing from ports in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, the Ranger brought its fighters – which Singley’s squadron stocked with ammo – within range of North Vietnam.

Singley was born in Alabama shortly before the Great Depression to parents who struggled to provide for him and his younger brother, John Henry. Thanks in part to the grinding economy, Singley developed a strong work ethic early, delivering newspapers and working for a laundry service while in high school.

He carried that sense of enterprise into the Navy, where he took on extra jobs in his spare time. He ironed fellow sailors’ uniforms and took orders for corsages and bouquets to be sent home to their wives, girlfriends and mothers.

In 1999, he was inducted into the Naval Aviation Ordnance Hall of Fame. Aside from serving in three wars, this honor was largely the result of a pair of inventions – a device that fed ammunition to 20-millimeter aircraft guns and a bomb rack for trainer planes.

A lieutenant commander’s commendation for then-Chief Singley praised his “initiative, ambition and hard work.”

Wanting to return to civilian life, Singley retired from the Navy in December 1964 – and headed back to work just five days later, beginning his second 20-plus year career  with a hardware store in Fremont.

After a 34-year marriage that ended with divorce in 1983, Singley met his second wife, Shirley, when she came into the store to buy a mailbox.

“She looked so beautiful,” he recalls. “I didn’t say, ‘May I help you?’ I said, ‘Are you married?’ ”

“Those were the first words out of his mouth,” Shirley confirms. “On our first date he put up my mailbox.”

He and Shirley moved to Tuolumne County in 1987 after marrying two years earlier. They are among the original residents of Mill Villa Estates, a senior community off Highway 108 in the Jamestown area.

He credits daily exercise with helping him stay fit – and still able to fit into the Navy uniform he wore decades ago.

And Singley has a ready audience for his war stories: He has two daughters from his first marriage, as well as six grandsons and eight great-grandchildren.

Of Singley’s 21 years in the Navy, 17 were at sea. He entered with the rank of seaman and was promoted seven times, retiring as a chief petty officer who taught others how to load nuclear weapons.

Were those decades of service worth it? Grandson Lance Raby thought so.

“Thank you for fighting in the Vietnam War, World War II, and the Korean War,” wrote fourth-grader Lance 13 years ago. “Thank you for being in the wars so we can have freedom. When I come to your house, can you tell me about the wars you were in? I am very glad you didn’t die.”

Now a 22-year-old engineering student in San Diego, Raby still comes to his grandfather’s house and enjoys his recollections.

“I enjoyed it, and I consider it a wonderful part of my life,” Singley says of his Navy career. “I enjoyed working with bombs, rockets, missiles — seeing the big planes take off. I really was part of the war.”

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors

By Mike Morris March 15, 2011 10:39