My last living grandparent was Price Kent, my dad's dad. I was 13 years old at the time of his death. He was born on September 21, 1907 (ironically my mom's dad was born on September 21, 1904 and my birthday is September 25, 1968) in Colbert County, Alabama. His mother died on April 14, 1915, he was seven years old, the oldest of four.
The two oldest children, my grandfather and his brother Uncle Herman lived with their dad who worked for T.V.A. His father was Clarence Hartwell Kent who helped work on Wilson Dam which was began in 1918 and completed in 1924. The two youngest children, my uncle Burnice and Aunt Elsie were sent to Clarence's in-laws and raised by his deceased wife's mother and father, John Alexander Osborn and Mary Elizabeth Keenum Osborn.
John Osborn (standing at right) and Mary Keenum (standing next to John)
He would join the navy in 1944 at the age 37. He told a funny story about how he got in the navy. He said he stood in line with everyone that had been drafted. Everyone of them was eighteen years old and everyone of them asked for the navy. Not a one of them got the navy. When asked what he wanted, he replied, "It don't matter to me." The sergeant looked at him and said, "You volunteered didn't you?" Price replied, "Yes I did." The sergeant started marking on his paper and said, "You're in the navy."
At the age of 37, my grandfather became a seaman although he couldn't swim, he could dog paddle a little and entered World War II. He was assigned duty aboard the U.S.S. Escalante. This ship was a tanker that fueled other ships at sea. My grandfather would join her for her second cruise to the Pacific Ocean. They passed through the Panama Canal and on toward Pearl Harbor. They saw action at Luzon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and entered Tokyo Bay during the surrender ceremonies.
AO-70 U.S.S. Escalante on June 26, 1944. My dad was 18 days old when this photo was taken.
He told me that the Escalante fueled a lot of ships, but one he remembers in particular was the U.S.S. Alabama. I searched the records and found that they actually fueled the Alabama on August 21, 1945. He often told me that his job when at battle stations was to load one of the weapons, but never fired the weapon himself. Fortunately they never saw any action because a tanker is no place to be in combat. The United States only lost six tankers to enemy action in World War II. Paw Paw Kent as I called him said that he remembered a Japanese Kamikaze crash his plane into an island nearby because he thought it was a ship. Another scare came when they happened up on a dead whale floating in the water at night and thought it was a mine.
Damage to the U.S.S. Thornton caused by the Escalante late in the war. My grandfather never mentioned a collision to me.
He told me another great story about life aboard the ship. He said on Sunday's the enlisted men had the day off. He was always a hard working farmer and was walking around the ship bored on Sunday afternoon. He came up on an officer working on something on the deck. Paw Kent had nothing better to do, so he helped the young officer fix whatever it was he was working on. He said, "After that day, I had it made. That officer took good care of me. I went around the ship greasing door hatches and things like that." He'd had no idea that his kind act would benefit him in any way. He taught me how they fueled other ships. He said they would get withing a hundred feet and shoot a line to the other ship. That ship would attach cables or ropes to that line and they would pull those back to the tanker. They would then attach the fuel hoses to those lines and the ship would drag the hoses back and place them in the tanks. The tanker would then pump fuel through the hoses and refuel the ship.
AO-53 fueling a ship at sea. This picture helps you to understand how they fueled another warship.
My dad says that not long after returning from the war, my grandfather began to have blood in his urine. This went on from about 1947 until the mid-seventies. He finally went to the V.A. hospital in Memphis, Tennessee (I still remember my dad and I taking him there). I still remember us seeing a hawk fighting several crows in a field along side the road and us pulling the car to the roadside to watch. I was about six or seven at the time, but remember it like it was yesterday. I had no idea what cancer was at that time. I had lost my mom's dad at age 5 and her mom at age 7. Dad's mom had bone cancer and died when I was 10. My grandfather finally died of bladder cancer on March 11, 1979. I was 13. My Uncle Lawrence used to tell me he believed that he got that cancer in Japan. He said my grandfather had told him they'd sent him ashore to help clean up the atomic bomb damage and that's where he would receive his death sentence. I have yet to verify this part of the story because the building in St. Louis that housed the navy records burned. I would like to know what medals he was due and receive those also. I have the flag that draped his casket in my dining room on top of my wife's piano.
I've told my oldest son Chase, who is now 13, he needs to ask all the questions he can think of to his grandparents because once they are gone, there will be no one left to answer them. I can think of a million questions I should have asked now, but it's too late now.