Robert McGrath served in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific during World War II from 1944 to 1946.
WWII – Navy, 1944-1946
Robert McGrath was born in Kansas City in 1925. Life was rough growing up during the Depression. Robert was one of eight children. His dad was a house painter in south Kansas City. During the 1930s there wasn’t much work available, so the family moved to south Missouri where rent was cheaper. They lived on a farm with one cow, but there was no farming work to be done. Robert’s dad moved back to Kansas City to get work and had to leave the family behind. In order to see his family, he would travel back and forth when he could get a ride with a farmer who was taking cattle to market.
Robert joined the military in 1943; he wasn’t quite 18 yet. At Union Station he was put on a troop train to Farragut, Idaho, for boot camp. After boot camp, he was put on a troop ship to cross the Pacific, landing in New Caldonia, in the South Pacific after 32 days. New Caldonia was the world’s largest leprosy colony; the troops were fenced in to keep them separated from the lepers. Robert’s job was to get the dishwater ready after every meal. There were two barrels, and he would heat the water using diesel fuel for the fire. Robert was called to duty on a PT boat PT-243 that had two twin 50-caliber mount machine guns, two torpedoes and was built out of plywood.
The PT boat headed for Green Island. Once there, every day at 4 p.m., they would go to New Guinea where they would patrol the coast line until daybreak and then go back to Green Island. Robert remembers the PT boat had a booth underneath to sleep in, but it was very hot. Eight men and two officers could sleep down there at one time. They were transferred from Green Island, and they were in a convoy headed for Okinawa when they received word that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan.
Eventually, Robert was assigned to the USS Valley Forge that had just been commissioned, but soon after, it was time for him to be discharged.
Since his dad was a painter, he had a contact for Robert to get a job at a paint company at 75th and Wornall in Kansas City for 50 cents an hour. Robert stayed in the paint business and retired after 42 years with the company.
Robert and his wife Ruth were married in 1947.
Robert and his wife, Ruth, spent more than 30 years enjoying their home at Pomme de Terre Lake where he spent time fishing and working outside. They had two girls and two boys and now have nine grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren.
Page 2 of 2 - Peggy Sowders, a city of Independence staff member, compiles stories from veterans from around the area at the Truman Memorial Building. Contact her at email@example.com or 816-325-7979 if you are interested in helping a veteran tell his or her story.