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NEWS | Aug. 1, 2023

NRC St. Louis Celebrates WWII-Era Sailor's 100th Birthday

By Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jacob Decena, Navy Reserve Center St. Louis

Navy Reserve Center (NRC) St. Louis Sailors recently visited a World War II-era veteran to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Machinist Mate Second Class William Hales, who served in the Navy 1942-1948, turned 100 years old on July 8, 2023.

During the visit, NRC St. Louis Sailors engaged in conversation with Hales, asked questions, and listened as he shared some of his most memorable sea stories with them.

When asked why he decided to join the Navy? Hales responded, “because my buddy and I heard about the Pearl Harbor attack on the radio, and just like every other American patriot, we were upset about that tragic event happening on U.S. soil.”

Another reason Hales joined, he explained, was because his father had served in the Navy during World War I as a quartermaster aboard the USS Arizona (BB-39).

Hales recalled his attempt to volunteer for naval service before he was even 18 years old. By his own will, he reported to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri, however, when he arrived, he was informed he was ineligible to serve due to being underage.

Hales took full advantage of his opportunity to serve “Uncle Sam’s Navy” as soon as he turned 18.

He traveled across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans aboard the Edsall-class destroyer escort USS Fessenden (DE-142), the ship he was assigned to serve aboard.

He explained that the ship once escorted President Franklin D. Roosevelt through the Panama Canal.

“But, life was not so easy on the ship” he recalled.

“We were always in fear of the unknown,” said Hales. “We didn’t know for certain what capabilities the enemy might have had.”

Hales recalled a time aboard Fessenden when a voice commanded over the ship's 1 Main Circuit (1MC), “brace for impact”.

He explained that a torpedo was believed to be heading straight toward the ship. As it got closer, however, the approaching object was identified as just a porpoise.

Hales also remembered several good times he had during his time in the Navy. He saw “fascinating things” and participated in many time-honored Navy traditions.

When Fessenden crossed the equator, Hales participated in a shellback ceremony.

“It's believed to pay tribute to King Neptune, himself," said Hales. "It’s the Navy’s way of thanking him for the fair winds and calm seas.”

Hales reflected on many of his memories as a young Navy Sailor and explained he was thankful for all of them.

When asked if he would want to change any of it, given the opportunity, Hales replied “No. I am proud of what I did in the Navy and the sacrifices I made for my country.”