Ed Sathoff, 94, of Petersburg, doesn’t mind saying he was one scared teenager
To Ed Sathoff, 94, of Petersburg, Veterans Day is an important holiday. “It is hard to explain, but it means everything to me,” Sathoff says. “It means we must remember our freedoms. We have the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion and the God-given right to vote. Many other countries don’t have these rights.”
Sathoff’s story starts in March 1944. He was 17, living in Atterberry near Petersburg; he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Navy. “I just felt it was my duty to defend my country,” he says. After basic training, he received advanced training in Naval Amphibious Forces, which were responsible for transporting soldiers and equipment, often under heavy enemy fire. They were instrumental in the Pacific – Leyte Island, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and others. Sathoff was in the convoy that landed on the Philippine island of Leyte, delivering men and equipment to the beaches. “The battle at Leyte in October 1944 was the world’s largest naval battle in history. We were in the face of the enemy. We had 120 men in the landing craft and there were hundreds of landing crafts. Was I scared? Yes, and I am not ashamed to admit it,” he says. “There was a lot of praying going on.”
After Leyte, he helped build the naval base on Samar Island, another island in the Philippines. He was thrilled to see General Douglas MacArthur.
The men had been told they would be headed to Japan, but they were not told of the impending attack on Hiroshima. “We were told we would head to Japan to invade. We were informed to expect up to a million casualties. Then, the news came that the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima (on Aug. 6, 1945). We did not go to Japan. I will tell you that lifted a huge weight off us.”
In 1946, he was given a 60-day leave but only took 30 days. After, he shipped out of California, headed to the Marshall Islands. The destination was the Bikini Atoll, and the assignment was to prepare for the atomic bomb test. Sathoff says, “We got things ready, but we were not there when the bomb was tested.” That took place in July 1946.Sathoff enlisted in the Navy in 1944, age 17.
By then, Sathoff had been discharged; he can immediately name the exact date, “May 25, 1946.” He had mixed feelings. “I loved the Navy, but my parents needed help with the family business. Otherwise, I would have stayed.”
Returning home, he married Gladys Mercedes, “Mert,” in July 1946. They had lived on neighboring farms near Atterberry and had met when she was 14 and he was 17. He says, “The first time I saw her I knew I wanted to spend my life with her.” She died Nov. 8 at a Petersburg nursing home, age 91. They would have marked their 75th anniversary in July 2021. Sathoff worked in his family’s custom farm work business, baling hay, shelling corn, etc. His wife worked as a cook.
Sathoff tells some interesting tales about life aboard ship. “I loved ship life on the USS Massachusetts battleship with over 1,200 men. And, I loved the ocean. I never got seasick, but I sure saw a lot of men lined up on the rail of the deck who suffered from it. We were told that eating sour pickles would help. I never ate one ’cause I never got sick.”
Six years ago, Sathoff made the trip to Fall River, Massachusetts, to once again climb on board the USS Massachusetts. “It brought back many old memories. I saw my old bunk and all the areas of the ship. It was a wonderful trip.”
In 2010 he had the opportunity to go on an Honor Flight, a national program that provides an all-expense-paid trip for veterans to see the memorials in Washington, D.C. But that trip was not as great as his trip to Massachusetts. It rained all day in Washington, D.C. At the Korean War Memorial, they were forced to get back on the bus because of the pounding rain. He had hoped to see the Changing of the Guard in Arlington National Cemetery, which he did – while sitting in the rain. The World War II Memorial visit seemed iffy. “The driver said if we wanted to see the memorial it was now or never. Just as we pulled off the highway at the site, it stopped raining. Although the sky was black and threatening more rain, we were there 45 minutes and it didn’t rain.”Ed Sathoff with his wife, Mercedes, who died Nov. 8 at a Petersburg nursing home. They had been married more than 74 years.
Sathoff had always planned to go back to high school and get his diploma, but he never did. On the occasion of his 80th birthday, though, Sathoff was presented an honorary diploma by the high school principal in Petersburg. Sathoff often showcased war memorabilia and gave speeches at the school on Veterans Day.
He is proud of earning four medals: The Victory Liberation Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal with two battle stars, Asia Pacific Theater with two bronze stars, and a Unit Citation Medal.
Sathoff stays active, taking care of a big yard and garden, and doing some woodworking. He continues to help promote the importance of the service of veterans, and enjoys life that he is thankful to have after experiencing many unpleasant situations during the war. “There are just some things we don’t talk about,” he says. “But I am proud of my service.”
Cinda Ackerman Klickna remembers stories her father told of his time in World War II and learned new information when interviewing Sathoff.