A chance meeting in a Lebanon grocery store parking lot has led to a grand relationship with a WWII veteran who has a story to tell.
It was 1943 Al Ping received “that” letter and reported to Chicago’s Navy Pier for navy boot camp.
Following his completion, and assignment to his first duty station, he believed that he was headed for destroyers or battle wagons and standing in a formation that he believed was destined for further training, Ping was told to step aside and there he was asked if he would like to be on a submarine.
His simple response, “well, I guess,” changed his direction and he was sent to Groton, Connecticut for submarine training. It was there that he and his wife-to- be were married.
On completion of this training he was given the assignment to report to the Navy Base in, of all places, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Upon arrival he was assigned to the submarine Kingfish and that was his duty for almost the next three years.
He would spend 16 to 18 hours a day more than 50 feet underwater before his boat would have to come up for air and to recharge its batteries.
Ping’s was a member of the “black gang,” ( a term that began being used during the time engines were coal fired and the engine room was filled with soot and smoke) an engineer and by that, he was responsible for monitoring the gauges and operating the valves to determine the “trim” and the depth of the submarine. And he was part of the crew that maintained the motors which provided the necessary motion to push the boat through the water there were two sets of engines on board the were diesel and electric and each had a backup.
During the time that the Kingfish was underwater the general crew was totally unaware of their whereabouts. There were no portholes to see through and of course no way to get out on the deck. After all they were sometimes hundreds of feet below the surface. They were totally dependent on the craft in which they were encapsulated to provide air, food and water to sustain life.
Navy life, for Ping, was not all Honolulu and use of white sandy beaches.
Machinists Mate Al Ping and his fellow crew members would prowl the Pacific from Hawaii to Australia and to the South China Sea and back to Hawaii for the next, almost, three years. During that time they were responsible for sinking enemy ships, laying mines and rescuing airmen whose planes had been shot out of the sky.
Ping, and his crew mates prowled the waters around Pearl Harbor Australia the Marianas, the Marshall Islands, Guam and all points in between.
When you think about it that was an awful lot of traveling, especially when you had no windows to look out of and had no idea, at the time, where you were.
Being on a submarine is no place for one with claustrophobia. When asked about it Ping said, “I was more afraid on a surface ship. I knew what we could do to them and I also knew that we could hide from them. But they couldn’t hide from us.
In our first exchange of pleasantries as is normal for most veterans the question where did you serve how did you like it? My response was, “I had it made,” to which Ping responded, “I did too. I came home.”
After serving three years, seven months, two weeks, two days and 29 minutes Ping came home to his wife who had been waiting since he left Groton, Connecticut .
The following his service he got a job in an offset printing plant and later he worked a steel mill. He was replaced in the offset printing plant by an office worker with a Xerox machine.
To-day if you stop by the Ping residence you might interrupt him riding his
John Deere mowing the grass.
Or who knows, you might just meet him at the grocery store.
Ping was recently honored with a Commemorative Brick on Monument Circle, Indianapolis by the Indiana War Memorials Commission.