“Freedom is never free. . . . You have to protect it. You have to nurture it.
I hope . . . none of you ever have to go out there and defend it.”
Patrolling the Pacific
-An oral history of Richard Jenke

Home | Table of Contents | Previous Story | Next Story
Personal Profile | Teacher Perspective | Audio Interview

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Richard Jenke was only fourteen years old, but he was more than ready to play his part in the conflict. “This was the biggest shock our nation had had in a long time,” remembers his wife, Irma. Richard clearly recalls the day after the bombing. “[It was] the first time I skipped school in my entire life . . . to try and join the Marines,” he laughs. “Guys were there by the hundreds to enlist, and there I was, fourteen years old. The guy said, ‘Son, you go on home and grow up and come back to see us.’” Determined to serve his country, Richard contrived a story to fool the Navy recruiters into thinking he was old enough to enlist. To his surprise, the recruiters believed his tall tale, and by 1942, Richard was serving aboard a Navy submarine in the Pacific.

Richard had a very important role aboard the diesel-powered submarine. “I served as the electrician,” he explains. “It was a tough way to go because . . . you had to take a test over that theory and . . . your job.” Richard continues, “My job was to take care of the batteries, take care of the generators, motors, and anything else electrical.” He had to clean off the carbon that would build up on the motors and generators so they would run smoothly. Two hundred and fifty-two battery cells weighing more than 1500 pounds were also under Richard’s care. “When I wasn’t doing that, I was on propulsion,” he adds. This meant that Richard had to monitor the transfer of power from the generators to the motors, an extremely important job. The electricity Richard helped generate kept the submarine cruising through the Pacific at about ten miles per hour. “Modern day submarines are very fast. Much faster than that,” he chuckles.

Richard traveled all over the Pacific as his submarine made regular patrols of the ocean. He was carried from Australia to Indonesia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and even north to Korea. “We covered quite a bit of the Pacific.” Along the way, “there were many missions . . . done by the submarine force.” Richard recalls, “The submarine’s mission [was not only] to seek and destroy the Japanese merchant marine and navy . . . but also to supply the guerillas in the Philippines.” The crew was involved in rescue missions as well. Nonetheless, defeating Japan was at the heart of all of the submarine’s missions. “We went after them wherever they went,” Richard says.

Richard spent thirty-four months in the Pacific defending the U.S. against its enemies, and was overjoyed to return home. “There [were] times when many of us never thought we’d see this country again,” he says. “I learned from my experience . . . to appreciate the things we [have] and to appreciate this country.” Richard says he would serve again if he was needed, but also recognizes the contribution people on the homefront made to the effort. His wife, Irma, worked in a weapons and ammunition factory while Richard was away. He declares, “We wouldn’t have won that war without people like my wife. They did it for us.

Home | Table of Contents | Previous Story | Next Story