STOW (CBS) - Fred McKenna, 91, of Arlington, spent his World War II years at sea.
He grew up in New Bedford and tried to join the Navy immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. McKenna was 16 when he tried to sign up.
"I knew we were going to have to fight, so I said, 'let's get going,' but they sent me home, and said, 'wait until you're 17,'" he told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.
He had to wait three months but the Navy was his first choice.
"I was always brought up by the water. I always loved the water," he said.
McKenna eventually served as chief machinist mate on the USS Quick from 1942 to 1946.
His first trip aboard the ship was to Casablanca. Successive trips were made to Iran to build up supplies for the invasion of Sicily, a major World War II battle.
The Allies captured Sicily with a sea and air campaign that was followed by six weeks of fighting on land.
"Of course, D-Day was such a big thing that they celebrate D-Day, but I never heard any celebrations of the invasion of Sicily, but up until D-Day, that was the greatest armada that had ever been formed," he told WBZ.
McKenna has bittersweet memories of the invasion.
"We were very happy that we didn't get sunk, but the USS Maddox, which took our place in line, got sunk, and they were shipmates. We'd tied up alongside of them during a couple of the trips over there, over in Iran. We knew them," he recalled.
Like most veterans, McKenna didn't talk about the war when he returned home.
"I was too busy looking for a job and getting situated, you know," he said.
He spent his civilian career operating power plants. McKenna attended reunions over the years, but they aren't held anymore.
"I miss those reunions. I think there's about 3 or 4 that are still living that I know of, and when we started having the reunions, we had four or five hundred, so down, down, down. We stopped having the reunions because the last time we had one, we had 30 people, and only 9 of us were actually shipmates. The others were wives and friends," he said.
McKenna found himself signing autographs recently after a panel discussion at the annual "Battle for the Airfield" at the Minute Man Airfield in Stow.
"I'm a bit embarrassed," he laughed, but noted that he was glad he attended the event.
"At least the people who come here appreciate it, you know. It's, I guess we should thank (Tom) Brokaw for his book that called it the Greatest Generation. It seems since that time, people started realizing what went on during World War II."
WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Mary Blake reports
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