Regis Wessell of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania wanted to be a marine, like his uncle who served in WWI, but the recruiter didn’t think the young lad had the right stuff. “Go join the Boy Scouts,” the gruff Sgt. barked, belittling Regis for his small stature. Besides, he was only seventeen.
Dejected, but undeterred from serving in the military during WWII, Regis got his parents’ permission and enlisted in the navy, where he was gladly accepted with open arms into boot camp during the winter of 1944—to shovel lots of snow in Sampson, New York. From there Regis was sent to the newly commissioned USS Hamblen (APA-114), an attack transport ship that would carry small landing craft for island invasions throughout the Pacific.
Regis’ humorous adventures in the navy–on land and sea–are among the most entertaining we’ve ever recorded. “I don’t know what you’d call it, maybe a slapstick navy,” Regis admits, “but we got our job done.”
On the first Monday of each month throughout 2015, we conducted oral history interviews at the Thomas & Katherine Detre Library & Archives in the Senator John Heinz History Center. The library is closed to the public on these days, so the staff graciously invited us to meet with local veterans and use this space to record and preserve their stories.
On May 4, 2015, we invited three senior Pittsburgh area veterans to the Senator John Heinz History to share their stories with the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative. First to be interviewed by historian Todd DePastino was Ernest Ziga, who served in the South Pacific during WWII. Then we were joined by Korean War combat veteran Jerry Gzesh, followed by WWII navy veteran Rege Wessell.