THE RARE BREED
Recognizing Area Veterans Of World War II
Pete Kocurek Served Aboard
The Famed Pennsy For 33 Months
PETE KOCUREK, right, with shipmate Leaderman (first name forgotten).
They visited China before coming home.
One of the greatest records of achievements by any American naval ship during World War II belonged to the battleship, U.S.S. Pennsylvania.
The old battlewagon, whose keel was laid on Navy Day, Oct. 27, 1913, had been the peacetime flagship of the fleet, and was among those hit by the Japs when they attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Pennsy, as she was fondly called, not only recovered from the wounds, but rallied back to attack the Japs in 13 Pacific amphibious operations.
Aboard the Pennsy for most of those operations was Pete Kocurek, who went aboard as a 16-year-old and stayed aboard for 33 long wartime months. At one time, Kocurek was on the Pennsy for 14 months without touching land.
Pete and his late twin brother, Paul, were born on Hillje, in Wharton County, on Nov. 3, 1926 to Anton and Amelia Kocurek. He enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 1, 1942 -- not quite a month past his 16th birthday. In lieu of a birth certificate, Pete had used a baptism certificate, perhaps slightly altered, to successfully convince the Navy he was 17.
"They (the Navy) needed all the help they could get at that time," he says. "And, I was wanting to help."
After initial recruit training at San Diego, Calif., Kocurek went to radio school then, in early 1943, was assigned to the Pennsylvania. He was a First Division deck hand and loader on one of the battlewagon's main battery 14-inch guns.
The Pennsy began her booming destruction on the Japanese at Attu in the Aleutians on May 5, 1943, when she entered fog shrouded Chicagof Bay and knocked out enemy shore positions. She was back in the Aleutians on Aug. 7, 1943 for the bloodless invasion of Kiska.
As flagship of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, the Pennsy led the invasion armada in the conquest of Makin Island in the Gilberts in November, 1943. In January, 1944, the ship blasted the Japs ahead of the landing troops in the Marshall Islands. After that, she turned to Eniwetok, then leveled her guns for the invasion of the Marianas. That mission took the Pennsy shuttle fashion from firing her guns at Saipan to Tinian to Guam.
In September, 1944, the Pennsy was the only battleship to fire on both Peleliu and Anguar in the one-two punch at the Palau Islands. She was the first battleship to steam into Leyte Gulf and first to open fire during the Jan. 6, 1945 landings in Lingayen Gulf, Luzon.
A feature on the famed battleship, published in the San Francisco Examiner on March 18, 1945, said the Pennsy "possibly has fired more 14-inch main battery ammunition on enemy positions than any ship in history. More than 11-million pounds of steel have been thrown at the Japanese by her guns, and more than 75,000 rounds of ammunition ranging from 13-inch main battery projectiles to .50-caliber machine gun bullets have gone through the muzzles of her guns."
The article added the battleship, as of the March, 1945 date "has traveled more than 100,000 miles in the Pacific in the present war, from the Bering Sea to southern Australia and from the United States Pacific Coast into the China Sea."
One of the ship's officers wrote that "The old girl shoots so fast and so much that at times she looks though she's afire."
That may have been the reason why Tokyo Radio reported many times during the war that the Pennsylvania had been sunk.
After three years, two months and five days in the Navy, including 36 months of overseas duty, Kocurek received his discharge on Feb. 6, 1946 at Camp Wallace, Texas, with the rank of Coxswain. He was then 19. Among the awards he received for his service were 13 Stars, including three Silver and three or four Bronze. A number of his awards and photographs were lost in Hurricane Carla.
On Aug. 4, 1948, Kocurek married Edith Shimek of Palacios. They moved to Boling, where he went to work at Freeport as a boilermaker. In 1951, they moved to Palacios and he went to work at Alcoa's Point Comfort Operations, retiring in 1988.
Pete and Edith have had five children: Glenn, who lives in Carthage; Derrill, deceased; Gary, who lives in Pledger; Freda Snyder of Wilson Creek and Dorene Kocurek, who lives in Freeport. There are also 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Mr. Kocurek passed away May 19, 2010 at the age of 83.
PETE KOCUREK, 2001
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