Birthday: March 21, 1913
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
Family: Frank & Emma Charvat
Occupation: printing company
Branch: United States Navy
Unit: PCE 848, South Pacific
Post: radar operator, third class
Frank Charvat was drafted as a "selected volunteer" in 1943. He was twenty-nine years old and married at this time. Frank was sent to the Great Lakes training station and was later transferred to training camps in Florida and New Orleans. He was assigned to a rescue ship, an 848 PCER (Pacific Craft Escort Radio), which was sent to Australia. However, before the ship needed to perform any rescue tasks, the hospital equipment was taken out and replaced with radio equipment. Frank Charvat's job was changed to radar operator.
Aboard the ship, the crew worked different shifts. "You were on four hours and you're off eight hours. That's what you underwent. That's around the clock. My station was radar...that's anything on the surface. But you couldn't watch radar for four hours; you had to watch it for a half-hour. After awhile it looked like grass because it affected your eyes. For the next half hour I would go to the steering station. I would steer the ship in the helm. The next half-hour I would go to the underwater sonar. Then I'd go in the bridge on lookout. Then my watch is over."
While his ship was harbored in Australia, the crew was hoping for liberty, which was a chance for them to go ashore. There they could attend a dance. "There'll probably be 200 men and maybe twenty girls, so you know, anything could happen." Frank, along with five other men, was called down by the Officer of the Day (OD). Frank thought to himself, "Now what do they want? I was assigned to shore patrol, to keep the peace if there were any problems at the dance. At the dance, I was told to go to the front of the building and go back and forth the length of it." Although he could hear the music, he said disappointedly, "I didn't even get to go inside!"
From Australia, Frank's ship sailed to the Philippines to protect the troops going onto the beach. While the ship was anchored in the bay, Frank recalls when General MacArthur returned the Philippines in October 1944. "I saw when he went back on the shore. So I actually saw history." According to Frank, General MacArthur was "very pompous and jaunty" and "waded in two or three times to be sure they got pictures of him". After MacArthur landed, the Japanese fighter planes came and "harassed us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and they didn't go to church on Sundays". The worst experiences Frank remembers "was when the LCI's would come in with the troops, and the Japs would shoot at them with artillery. That whole thing would blow up with maybe twenty men on it. That was awful."
One night, while Frank was on watch, "all of a sudden...bang!" Three bombs exploded around him. "I knew I was hit. I was injured on my jaw, chest, and hand," which resulted in an amputated arm and a broken jaw. He went to the sick bay where other seamen were also injured. "The next day I was evacuated along with the other injured men. I went to a base hospital in New Guinea for about a week." The hospital had a concrete floor and he had to wear a net over his head to keep the mosquitoes out. "The bunk I slept in had a table with five empty glasses. The Navy medic said, `If you want me, push one of these glasses over. Then I'll hear you.'
"We were there maybe a week. Then they put us on a hospital ship. This was lit up like a Christmas tree. You know international law made them. That took us to Brisban, Australia. It took us maybe two weeks. We went from Brisban to San Francisco, no stops. We were at sea seventeen days."
Frank recalls that on the ship, "My jaw was broken. I had a strictly liquid diet." He goes on, "I had a tag hanging around my neck with a sign. The sign said `this man has a fractured jaw'. My teeth were held together with rubber bands and I had a pair of scissors hanging around my neck." He had the scissors just in case he started to choke and the rubber bands needed to be cut apart. Fortunately, "All that time, I never had that happen."
In San Francisco he went to a base hospital for six months and was then discharged from the Navy in May of 1945. Now Frank needed to get transportation back to Chicago. "They gave me a nickel a mile, one hundred and twenty dollars. You were on your own and all I had was a ditty bag. I remember thinking, `How am I going to get home?' So they made arrangements with the American Red Cross to have a plane pick me up...this was some type of plane for officers who had special equipment." This plane would take him as far east as possible. The first stop was made 605 miles away in Salt Lake City, Utah for breakfast and refueling. They stopped again in Kansas City, Kansas for lunch. The last stop was in Indianapolis, Indiana.
"When we got there they said there were no planes leaving for Chicago in the next twenty-four hours...Well I'm walking down the street and around the corner about two blocks is a bus depot. So I walk down the street and in the meantime I thought, `well maybe I'll get a haircut.'" Once he reached the depot, he realized the bus wasn't leaving until 9 a.m. the next morning. "Well what do I do now? So I'm walking down the street and there's a jeep with two MP GIs. The MP's were on patrol to escort any military personal to a hotel or someplace to stay. They asked where I was going and I explained my story. They said, `Why don't you get in the jeep?' So I get in the jeep and we get out of town about ten miles, and there is an army base. There I spent the night at the barracks. I told the soldiers about General MacArthur...they were really interested...I was a celebrity!"
"The next morning two MP's drove me to the bus depot." He boarded his bus for his 163-mile trip to Chicago. Once he reached the city, he phoned his wife and told her, "I'm downtown." "From the bus depot, I took the local train, but that only went part way. Then I took a cab the rest of the way." After being gone two long years, and traveling a total of 13,272 miles to get back, Frank was home.
under Learn and Serve American Grant #00LSFWI104