From Okinawa to Maine

Posted Wednesday, July 31, 2013 in Features

From Okinawa to Maine

U.S.S. Menard

by David Treadwell

In October 2007, Howard Cederlund was standing outside Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta when he saw a man about his own age wearing a WWII hat. "I asked him where he had been in the service, and he said 'D-Day in France and then in the Pacific.'  I asked him what ship he'd been on, and he said, 'AKA 53, The USS Achenar.' I said to him, 'You are not going to believe this, but I was in the same place as you were 62 years ago."

Not only had Howard Cederlund and George Hanna been in the same place during World War II, they shared the memory of a horrible event: the crash of a Kamikaze at one minute past midnight on April 2, 1945 in Okinawa.

"I was on the USS Menard, and we fired at a Kamikaze that just missed us and then hit the Achernar, which was astern of us as we traveled in close convoy just off Okinawa. George told me how the Kamikaze hit the boom and an LCM landing craft on the forward deck. Then, the 500-pound bomb it was carrying went through the deck and exploded near the mess hall, killing 5 of their crew and wounding 41. The ship caught fire and listed badly, but the courageous crew saved her."

At the time, Howard thought that the Achenar had sunk, so he was delighted to meet a surviving member of the Achenar's crew 62 years later. "What are the odds of that happening, one in a zillion?" laughs Howard.

Howard Cederlund is 86 years old today and lives in Wiscasset. He has created a fascinating book, entitled, "This is the way it was! A Chronicle by: Howard Cederlund a Gunner's Mate aboard The USS Menard During WWII." He serves as the unofficial historian of the USS Menard, and he has been instrumental in getting his former shipmates together for reunions.

Howard's newfound WWII compatriot George Hanna is 88 years old, and he lives in Round Pond. In his collection of  memorabilia, Hanna has a picture of the Kamikaze's remains and it has a wheel on it with the words, "Ford Motor Co."

Not surprisingly, Hanna's memories of the landing at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944 are even more vivid than his memory of the later Kamikaze attack. The USS Achenar was an attack cargo ship so Hanna could see the actual landing on the beaches from his ship. And he remembers to this day the sounds of the explosions as battleships to the rear of the USS Achenar fired at the beaches at Normandy to soften them up for the amphibious landing. "It was unbelievable," he recalls with quiet understatement. It was also, truth be told, terrifying. "My knees were shaking," Hanna admits. 

About 16 million soldiers fought for the U.S. Military during World War II. Over 600 thousand were killed during this tragic conflict; half a million more were wounded. The vast majority of survivors have passed away. A chance encounter of two of the survivors in a small town in Maine presents another opportunity for us to salute all those who served on behalf of their country and for the cause of freedom.

(NOTE:  Readers might be interested in meeting Howard Cenderlund in person and in supporting veterans at an upcoming event: "Voices of Freedom, Wings Over Wiscasset, a Family Fun Day and Fundraiser." It will be held at the KIWI Municipal Airport in Wiscasset on Tuesday, August 6, 2013. See www.wingsoverwiscasset.org for details.)

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