LIVERMORE FALLS â€” World War II veteran Paul Simoneau, 95, â€śwent through hellâ€ť during his time overseas in the U.S. Navy.
He served for 3Â˝ years aboard the USS Escalante, an oil tanker that carried high-octane gasoline. He was involved in four invasions: Normandy, France, in 1944; and in 1945, Luzon in the Philippines, Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands and Okinawa, Japan.
He lost two good friends from childhood in the war. One next-door neighbor was on a ship that got hit by a torpedo. It was â€śbombed right of out of the water,â€ť Simoneau said.
â€śHe never came home. Imagine if one of those torpedoes hit us with a shipload of high-octane gasoline.â€ť
Simoneau was 17 when he was drafted into the military. Following nine weeks of boot camp training in Newport, Rhode Island, he was assigned to the U.S. Navy and sent to the Atlantic Ocean.
At the time, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was building up to invade Germany, Simoneau said.
â€śWe made quite a few crossings. We had to bring gasoline, and, well, you name it â€” planes, Jeeps.â€ť he said.
While they were crossing, German U-boats, also known as submarines, patrolled the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean, and at night the Germans were after them because of the gasoline the tanker carried, he said.
The U.S. dropped depth charges from destroyers surrounding the oil tanker to try to hit the submarines. If the charges didnâ€™t hit the target, more were dropped, but deeper.
â€śWe heard it all night long,â€ť he said.
One of Simoneauâ€™s duties was to clean the empty tanks.
â€śWe had to shovel the bottom of the tanks. It was probably 25 feet down. And, down below was what they call scales: the sludge. We had to shovel that in 10-quart buckets. The more we stirred up that stuff, the fumes were unbearable.
In those days they didnâ€™t wear protective gear.
â€śIt is a wonder we didnâ€™t die just from the fumes,â€ť he said.
Once the crew finished in the Atlantic, they received orders to Â join the 3rd Fleet in the Pacific Ocean. They went through the Panama Canal and made stops in San Diego and Pearl Harbor to pick up supplies.
With the 3rd Fleet, Simoneau first fought in the invasion of Luzon, then the Battle of Iwo Jima, followed by Okinawa.
Iwo Jima was horrible, he said.
U.S. Marines were stuck at the bottom of a mountain and couldnâ€™t get up it. The 3rd Fleet was ordered to bomb the island.
â€śWe didnâ€™t only bomb the island. We pulverized it,â€ť he said.
The Marines finally were able to go up Mount Suribachi and plant the U.S. flag. The reason they wanted the island was so fighter planes could bomb Tokyo and return to the island on the same day, he said.
Following the Battle of Okinawa, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, which prompted Japan to surrender.
When the ceremonies for the formal surrender of Japan occurred, Simoneau said, they were right next to the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.
He and those aboard the ship watched the ceremonies in which Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed the document marking the formal surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.
When they did go onshore in Tokyo, he said, there were dead bodies in the streets and buildings were bombed out. It was devastated.
When Simoneau returned to Livermore Falls, discharged as a petty officer, second class, he suffered from post-traumatic stress, and for a while he couldnâ€™t shake it.
â€śWe didnâ€™t want to talk about it,â€ť he said. â€śWe went through hell. I finally came out of it, but it took a long time.â€ť
Three of his brothers also served in World War II and survived.
One of Simoneauâ€™s most prized possessions is a folded U.S. flag encased in glass and wood.
His granddaughter, Sgt. Leah Bickford of Dresden, who serves in the Maine National Guard and is now a recruiter, took him to a yacht club in Portland owned by a woman who invited 100 veterans to a day of deep-sea fishing several years ago, Simoneau said. Following fishing there was all kinds of food. While music played, Simoneau thought he heard his name called but knew he didnâ€™t win a prize for a fish. His granddaughter took him up to receive the encased flag.
â€śI will always treasure this flag,â€ť he said.