Reunion For Duluth WWII Vets

By KBJR News 1

October 14, 2011 Updated Oct 14, 2011 at 4:49 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) --- The sound of rifle fire may have shaken a few shoppers near the West Duluth K–Mart, but it didn't rattle the anchor chains of these old salts.

The volleys of honor were fired for the 71st reunion of the U.S.S. Paducah, the Duluth based Navy Reserve ship called to active duty in 1940.

"It was a very seaworthy ship and it was maintained very well here by the crew of the Paducah," said Ray Folland, a Paducah veteran.

The Paducah was a 1905 gunboat used for training reservists in the Twin Ports from 1920 to 1940.

It was called to East Coast duty a year before Pearl Harbor due to the looming threat of involvement in World War Two.

Steve Balach joined up at the age of 16 because nobody could decipher his Serbian birth certificate.

"They swore me in because they didn't check it out," said Steve Balach, a Paducah veteran.

The Paducah was used to train armed guards for merchant vessels and by 1942, most of her men were posted on other ships. Balach saw action in the Pacific.

"I was in the Phillipines when I was kamikazed and I saw the U.S.S. Ward sunk," said Balach.

The Ward was the first American ship to fire shots at Pearl Harbor a few years earlier.

Joseph Jeanette was severely wounded when his ship was attacked.

"My ship was torpedoed and I was on an oil tanker and it started to sink and we had to abandon ship," said Jeanette, a Paducah veteran.

Bill Carlson's ship was hit by two torpedoes.

"I ran in our quarters which was ahead of the gun on the poop deck and grabbed my pea coat and life jacket and down the ladder to the main deck and I was up to my knees in water already," said Carlson, a Paducah veteran.

From an original complement of 160 sailors, there are only ten left. Those men, though, will keep coming back to Duluth for their annual reunion until the last man.

"As long as we're alive, we'll probably look forward to our 72nd reunion," said Balach.

After WWII, the Paducah was sold to a private party who used the ship to smuggle Holocaust survivors to Israel. She was scrapped in the early 50's.

Reported by Dave Anderson