WWII veteran Andrew Tostensen saw the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, as well as a test of a nuclear bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands after the war.
Andrew Tostensen was 17 years old when he enlisted two days after graduating high school near the end of World War II.
At the time, fighting was still fierce in the Pacific theater and he fully expected to be part of the invasion of Japan until two atomic bombs ended the conflict.
“I wanted to get over there before the war ended,” he said. “I was teed off the war ended. They must have figured I was coming.”
He came from a sea faring family and thought his experience would qualify him to be a boatswain’s mate but the Navy had other plans. He was trained as a cook and was assigned to the crew of the USS Chikaskia, an oil tanker.
“The ship I was on was run by nothing but 17-year-old sailors,” he said. “They thought they were invincible.”
After training, he sailed to Pearl Harbor where he said the base was still recovering from the Japanese attack four years earlier.
“The base still looked pretty bad,” he said.
He left for Japan after the war ended where he saw firsthand the devastation of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
“We could see the Japanese working there,” he said.
His ship helped refuel Japanese navy ships carrying troops back to their homeland.
“It didn’t bother me refueling Japanese ships,” he said. “I didn’t have any ill feeling toward them.”
After spending several days there, his ship left for the Persian Gulf to replenish its supply of oil. He was not allowed to go ashore because it was considered too dangerous for sailors.
After traveling through the Philippines, his ship went to the Marshall Islands in August 1946 to witness the atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. The Navy wanted to determine how an atomic bomb would impact vessels near the island.
“They had all kids of old ships they had taken out of service,” he said.
One of the ships was the USS Arkansas. It was one of the only ships still intact after the bomb detonated.
“You could see the ships blowing up,” he said. “Thank goodness I wasn’t there.”
Luckily, his ship was far enough from the detonation that he wasn’t exposed to radiation from the bomb. Some sailors returned to the scene too soon and they later were diagnosed with cancer from being exposed to radiation.
His ship returned to the United States, where he was released from active duty, along with many of the other sailors who enlisted at 17 years old.
He served in the Navy Reserve for another four years and wanted to sign up for another term when the Korean War broke out, but the recruiter he met didn’t have the proper paperwork for him to sign.
“If they would have called, I would have gone,” he said.
Tostensen said his military service helped shape the rest of his life.
“I had the discipline,” he said. “It also taught me I could take care of myself. You learn to serve with men who will stick with you.”
Did you subscribe for our daily newsletter?
It’s Free! Click here to Subscribe!
Source: The News