David Lowhorn still remembers the USS Mount Hood exploding in the Seeadler Harbor in Papua New Guinea like it was yesterday.
The ammunition ship exploded on Nov. 10, 1944, leaving behind barely a trace. To this day, no cause for the ship’s destruction has been determined.
Seventy-four years after the ship was obliterated, Lowhorn, 99, calls it one of the experiences he’ll never forget from his time serving during World War II.
In fact, he says, the ship he was stationed on in 1944 had made a short pass by the Mount Hood just 50 days prior.
“Had we made that trip later, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
Lowhorn, a Franklin County native and Tullahoma resident, was one of four brothers who all served in the Navy during the Second World War, fighting Japanese forces in the South Pacific.
“There was four of us brothers in World War II,” he said. “William, Sherman, Daniel and David Lowhorn.”
Lowhorn and his brother Sherman served on minesweeper ships – those tasked with discovering and untethering mines in the ocean in order to allow safe passage for other naval ships.
It was one of the most dangerous occupations during that time, according to his wife, Doshia.
Thankfully, all four Lowhorn siblings made it through the war safely and returned home to their families – their mother’s prayer answered in full, Lowhorn said.
Lowhorn has multitudes of stories to tell and jokes to crack about his time serving his country during World War II, many of which he shared with The News in celebration of Veterans Day today.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he said, he was working in a factory in Detroit. Shortly after, he was drafted and was shipped to Virginia for boot camp.
Although he felt a sense of duty to serve his country, he sometimes wishes he had never served.
“I could have stayed out,” he said. “I could have gotten deferred if I’d asked for it.”
Lowhorn was making parts for tanks in Detroit, so had he asked for a deferment he would have received one, but Lowhorn’s love of his country inspired him to serve.
“I love my country,” Lowhorn said with conviction.
Lowhorn also remembers taking part in several battles around the Philippines and in Japan, including the Battle of Leyte Gulf and the Battle of Okinawa.
“We was at Leyte, and that’s when the [Japanese] came down through the channels,” Lowhorn said. “Our admiral … was waiting for them and we pretty well destroyed the Japanese Navy there.”
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is considered one of the largest naval battles in the war, as well as the first battle to feature Japanese kamikaze attacks, according to historian Samuel Morison.
Lowhorn also remembers the Battle of Okinawa with great clarity.
“Our planes were going out and bombing Japan,” Lowhorn recalled. “The Japanese, they lost all their airplanes and all their gas, so they didn’t have nothing to fight with after that.”
The culmination of the battle, as Lowhorn remembers it, is having U.S. forces moving into Okinawa “like bees,” swarming the sea and skies with ships and planes.
“Our navy was going around Japan in circles,” Lowhorn said. “The way I see it, they couldn’t have lasted another 30 days.”
After Okinawa, Lowhorn said, Japan was pretty much decimated.
“We destroyed the whole nation,” he said.
Japan was even destroyed enough that Lowhorn theorizes the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki Hiroshima were rendered unnecessary.
“I didn’t think we had to drop them,” he said.
Lowhorn’s memories aren’t all dark, however. He has plenty of silly tales of his time overseas, including the time a shipmate of his got “plum down” drunk and Lowhorn had to spend the night in the brig in the Philippines in order to allow his friend to sober up.
He also has funny stories about his return to the U.S., like how his daughters didn’t recognize him at first.
“They didn’t remember me,” he said. “I’d been home about a week, and they said, ‘Momma, when’s this man going to leave?’”
Lowhorn still laughs at the memory as much as he did when it happened in 1945.
“That was funny,” he said. “They found out right quick I’m Big Poppa.”
Even something as simple as a glass of milk can bring a smile to Lowhorn’s face. Milk was the first beverage that greeted Lowhorn when he made it back to the United States to finish his enlistment.
“We landed in Oakland, and the first thing the Red Cross had for us was milk,” he said.
Despite being thousands of miles from home for several years, Lowhorn was still able to have contact with his three brothers during their enlistments.
One of the first times he saw his older brother, Sherman, was when Lowhorn was on his way to the Philippines.
Sherman had been overseas for about two years by the time Lowhorn was being sent from boot camp to Oakland, California, to prepare for deployment.
But once Lowhorn got to Oakland, he said, he saw a familiar face.
“The bus pulled up to the curb, and we got out, and there comes my brother up the street,” Lowhorn said.
Sherman was back in the States for a reason Lowhorn didn’t remember, but that wasn’t the important part. What was important, he said, was that he got to spend the night with his brother.
“If we had been one minute early or late, he wouldn’t have seen me,” Lowhorn said, “so I got to spend the night with him.”
That wasn’t the only time Lowhorn had contact with his brothers, Lowhorn said.
Another brother, Daniel, had his ship come in during the Mount Hood explosion to assist with recovery efforts, Lowhorn said, so the brothers were similarly reunited during their expeditions.
“We met each other quite often like that,” Lowhorn said, with one brother’s ship coming by and the other brother signaling a greeting.
“My brother was a signalman, so when our ship pulled in, I knew the number of his ship,” Lowhorn said. “I would signal over there and he would signal back.”
When the war ended in 1945, Lowhorn was stationed in “the Northern part of Okinawa.” He remained there for about a month after the official end of the war before he was able to come home, he said.
When he came back, he said, he hardly recognized his wife at the time, Jewel.
“My wife had to work … a man’s job, and I didn’t hardly know her (because) she lost so much weight,” he said.
This was one of the moments he wished he had never gone off to war, he said, because it so affected his family.
“I thought everything would be fine,” he said.
Things eventually evened out, though, and Lowhorn returned to the place he felt most at home – a farm.
When asked if he served in any other wars after his World War II enlistment, Lowhorn said he only “served on a farm” after the 1940s.
Veterans Day festivities
Lowhorn will be present at the city’s Veterans Day ceremony on Monday, he told The News.
“It’s nice to be back with my buddies,” he said of the ceremony, which he attended last year, too.
Lowhorn is excited to attend this year’s ceremony and receive a citywide recognition for his service to the country.
“It feels great,” he said of being recognized.
The City of Tullahoma will host its annual Veterans Day ceremony at 10:45 tomorrow morning, Nov. 12, at South Jackson Civic Center. There will be patriotic music, a poem reading, special performances from student groups and refreshments. A full schedule of events is available at www.tullahomatn.gov.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.