World War II veterans honor memory of their ship's namesakes [photos]

World War II veterans honor memory of their ship's namesakes [photos]

June 27th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Keith Rogers, left, nephew to the three Rogers brothers, shakes hands Monday with U.S. Navy veteran David Vick of the USS Rogers.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

Sitting in a room surrounded by sailors, George Eichenberg lifted the microphone to his mouth and did his best to remember the lyrics.

"Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo? Track twenty nine, boy, you can gimme a shine," the 93-year-old began.

The next verse of the 1941 classic proved a little more challenging.

"I don't remember the words," Eichenberg joked Monday to about 50 people inside the Choo Choo. "Normally, I know all the words, but you make me so nervous."

A regular Glenn Miller or not, Eichenberg still can remember what it was like to serve on the USS Rogers, a naval destroyer that sailed in the Pacific Theater, carried Japanese dignitaries during their surrender at the end of World War II, and, to this day, more than 60 years later, commemorates three brothers whose bodies are buried in Chattanooga but whose souls link the members of a constantly dwindling group of veterans.

There are 21.4 million living veterans, according to recent statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But in the entire world, there are only nine left alive who served aboard the USS Rogers when it was commissioned on March 26, 1945. And on Monday, three of them gathered in Chattanooga in a room with their fellow servicemen to honor Jack, Edward and Charles Rogers, the three brothers from Alabama who all died aboard the USS New Orleans on Nov. 30, 1942.

In their honor, the United States named a naval destroyer after them, the ship that Eichenberg, Scott Fuller, Gilbert Gray and many others who gathered Monday at the Choo Choo all served aboard.

It is a ship that carries so many memories.

Eichenberg could recall standing his watches — four hours on, eight hours off — and then scraping paint, keeping his head down, and "once in a while, doing some gambling."

After the Navy, he completed four years of day school and eight years of night school to earn two degrees in business and engineering on the GI bill. Eichenberg actually wanted to join the Marines. But on the day he turned 18, the office was closed. So he bounded down a flight of stairs and made the best decision of his life enlisting in the Navy. His sharpest memory is the six to eight days he spent off shore during the D-Day Invasion at Normandy Beach, his first cruiser getting rocked by submarine missiles and torpedo boats.

Fuller, considered young at 88, came from Boston, and was shocked by the number of Southerners in the Navy. He spent his days watching islands and cleaning the ship. When the USS Rogers announced Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, Fuller remembered the men on the ship shouting "Hooray!" in near unison. After the war, he remained in the reserves for many years.

Before the war ended, though, the Rogers would have one more crucial mission.

And that's what Gray, 92, can still picture: the Japanese dignitaries who boarded the ship, who needed transportation to the USS Missouri to broker the official Sept. 2, 1945, surrender. A Russian dignitary boarded the USS Rogers one time, too, he said.

In the fields of Indiana, after the fighting, Gray, a farmer, started an electronic plant with thousands of employees.

On Monday, the veterans visited the Chattanooga National Cemetery, which was the closest burial ground for the Rogers family when the brothers were buried there in 1947. They watched in silence, Fuller said, like they were used to.

"We owe them a tremendous gratitude," Charles Keith Rogers, a relative who attends these reunions, said Monday of the "Greatest Generation" veterans like Fuller, Gray and Eichenberg. "And we can probably never repay [them] except through patriotism."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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