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World War II veteran Lenoir turns 97

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

The last living survivor of the Destroyer Escort U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts celebrated his 97th birthday on Nov. 9.

Adred Lenoir of Clanton was in the water of the Leyte Gulf on a life net for at least 50 hours when the ship sank on Oct. 25, 1944 during World War II.

He received the Purple Heart as a result.

Lenoir had wanted to join the Merchant Marines.

“I had volunteered for the Merchant Marines and had taken the test, but the draft board wouldn’t release me,” Lenoir said. “So, I didn’t go into the Merchant Marines, I went into the Navy.”

He was drafted on Dec. 31, 1943 at the age of 20 and attended basic training in Samson, New York.

Lenoir said he did not attend classes there, like some of the other recruits.

“I was working in a ship yard doing electrical work, so when I went in (to the Navy). They said I probably learned more there than I would be going to school. They assigned me to a ship as soon as they could.”

He went to Texas, then Boston, Massachusetts before going through the Panama Canal to Hawaii.

“From there, we went on to the Philippines,” Lenoir said. “That’s where the ship was sunk at Leyte Gulf.”

During that battle, Lenoir had been assigned to Repair Party 1 and was in the dining hall when General Quarters was called. General Quarters was a call for everyone to go to their assigned stations.

Lenoir said he remembers many shipmates were eating breakfast when the Captain came over the loudspeaker saying “if we wanted to see what was left of the Japanese fleet to go up topside on portside and look off in the distance we could see it.”

“They had been fighting the night before, and they thought that they (Japanese) had been put out of commission,” Lenior said. “But, this was a new division that had the two largest battleships that had ever been built that was in that division that was coming in. They had 20-plus ships, and the smallest gun they had was larger than the largest gun that the fleet that I was in had.”

U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts was fired upon and all personnel were called to their battle stations. The crew had practiced this over and over to the point that “a lot of us thought that they carried it too far,” Lenoir said.

“The skipper knew what he was doing,” Lenoir said. “The plan worked like clockwork.”

During the battle, he could feel enemy shells shaking the ship.

“We went so close to one of their cruisers that they couldn’t put their guns low enough to shoot us,” Lenoir said.

However, a torpedo hit the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts, and it began to sink.

“I couldn’t swim and the skipper couldn’t swim,” Lenoir said. “The captain of the ship couldn’t swim, and there were several others on there that couldn’t swim, but where we was at it didn’t matter if you could swim or not because in the length of time. You would have drowned anyway.”

They survived by sitting on a life net.

“We sat on that net with our feet down through it to keep the waves from washing us apart, and we had the net tied to the raft (that held the wounded) that way it would keep us all together,” Lenoir said.

Some of the survivors died from their battle wounds before the rescuers arrived.

Airplanes and smaller ships were looking for survivors when Lenoir and those with him were finally found.

“I came back to the States and was given a 30-day leave to come home,” Lenoir said.

Lenoir was then assigned to a repair ship, which returned to the Philippines.

He was discharged from the Navy soon after the war was over.

Lenoir grew up in Jemison in the Pleasant Grove community. He graduated from Jemison High School in 1942.He returned to Jemison after leaving the Navy because he “liked the location and liked the people.”

Jobs took him to other parts of Alabama, but Lenoir has returned to Chilton County, now living in Clanton.

To commemorate Lenoir’s 97th birthday, Gianetta Jones put out a call for people to send cards and letters. She said she reached out to the military to see if any of them could send something.  They wanted to get at least 97 cards. Lenoir has received 240. The response came as a surprise, especially from those in the Navy.

“I was kindly surprised at the number of high-ranking officers in the Navy that sent me a card and a letter,” Lenoir said.

Some have also sent challenge coins and books.

Lenoir does not have a philosophy for why he has lived so long. However, he said quitting smoking and drinking alcohol may have contributed.

Lenoir’s advice to younger generations is “have respect — first for themselves and then for the rest of the people.”