The sailors met aboard the USS Loy during World War II.
They formed a bond as young men in the middle of the ocean, in the midst of war.
They survived when a kamikaze plane hurtled into the side of the ship, hitting it just high enough for the Loy to manage to chug back to shore. From then on, it was known as the “Lucky Loy.”
And the sailors never forgot one another.
Tuesday, three of those shipmates gathered at the Motts Military Museum in Groveport for a reunion. The veterans toured the museum, silently observing items from America and Ohio’s military past. They reminisced about their time in the service and reveled in one another’s company.
Rome Barr’s caregiver, Mike Pyles, pushed him around the museum in a wheelchair. Baylor Kirk walked on his own, aided by a cane. Jim Davidson had to take a break to sit down. But in their minds, they were still strapping young sailors aboard the Loy.
In World War II, the USS Loy originally was commissioned as a destroyer, then converted to an APD, or destroyer escort-transport. In 1945, a kamikaze plane crashed into the “Lucky Loy” during the invasion of Okinawa by American forces. Three of the roughly 200 men aboard were lost that day.
Over the years, the shipmates became a lot more like family than friends.
The group has gathered annually for 35 years. They have traveled all over the country for reunions, from Houston to Jacksonville, Florida. Tuesday was their first visit to Columbus.
Barr is too sick to travel, so his shipmates brought the reunion to him. At 92, he lives with his daughter on the Far West Side.
“It is important to get together because most of us will be gone in another four to 10 years,” Barr said.
Barr was a fireman 1st class on the ship, working on the engines beneath the deck.
“I was the low man on the totem pole, literally,” Barr joked.
Kirk still volunteers every Thursday at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. Even at 94, he remains a military man.
The Beavercreek resident was on the ship until 1947, when it was decommissioned in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Kirk was an electrician’s mate 3rd class on the Loy.
At 91, Davidson is the baby of the bunch. He enlisted at 17 and spent his military career as a signalman 3rd class. Davidson traveled for the Columbus reunion with his wife, Carolyn, from Charlotte, North Carolina.
“This is a good opportunity to tell the same war stories over and over again,” Davidson said. “When you live with people for two years in close quarters, you’re bound to get close.”
A fourth veteran, 93-year-old Ken Fidler, came for the Columbus gathering but returned home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, before visiting the museum. He was a sonar technician 3rd Class on the ship and wrote a book “Memoirs of a Ping Jockey,” about his early life and his time on the Loy.
Carol Hull, 64, first accompanied her dad, Bob Montague, to these reunions in 2010. When he died in 2011, she continued to attend in his place, traveling from Charlotte with the Davidsons.
“This is a way for me to still feel connected to my parents,” Hull said.
She said she loves learning more about her dad, the sailor, such as how he would sleep outside on the back deck of the boat with no shirt on every night to escape the sweltering sleeping quarters below.
Montague was the one who kept up with everyone after the war, enabling the men to meet regularly, Davidson said.
Now, Tina Bailey, Kirk’s daughter, plans their reunions. Before touring Motts, Bailey arranged for the four men and their families to tour Columbus and go to the Statehouse, where they met Gov. John Kasich. She plans a three-day trip for the group because she knows every moment spent together is precious.
“This connection with each other is so important for them,” said Bailey, also a resident of Beavercreek. “We’re losing so many of them. They’re precious.”
© 2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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