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© 2009 Dale E. Carlson

Unsung Hero: Survived Hellish Night at Sea

Sailor Kept Horrifying Memories to Himself Until Recently

Sixty-five years later, a tattered list still brings tears to 91-year-old Navy veteran's eyes.

It's still hard for 91-year-old Julius Bellin to look at the names on a tattered list ... names he crossed off after a terrifying night at sea 65 years ago. "It hurts, it hurts ... because they bring back all the memories of what happened."

And what happened to Julius and his crew mates in October of 1944 is something he kept to himself most of his life. "None of my friends knew about my service ... what happened. I kept everything a secret. It was a hectic night ... one to remember ... and so many things come to your mind. The one thing that comes to your mind is, you're going to die by morning -- we'll all be dead."

Gunner's mate Julius Bellin was serving in the U.S. Navy's Armed Guard, protecting the cargo ship JOHN A. JOHNSON, when a Japanese submarine torpedoed the ship between San Francisco and Hawaii. "It's an awful feeling to know you have to abandon your ship, and you're losing your home. And then you're at the mercy of the sea."

While Julius frantically tried to pull some of his crew mates to a life raft, the submarine attacked again. "We were on the life raft, and they machine gunned us, they rammed us, they damaged the life raft. But it still held up. My friend, I tried to pull him on the life raft, and we were covered with oil, and he slipped out of my hands, and he got chopped up by the submarine propellers. And that memory stayed with me for quite some time, because I often wondered if I could have done something to save him."

That friend, Donald Christensen, was among ten men killed that night. "It was a night of horror -- one where, if you believe in God, you pray. You will pray."

Bellin's prayers were answered. A passing plane happened to see flames from the wreck, and a ship was sent to rescue the survivors. Bellin recalled, "Well, I tell you what, I figured the Lord was with us survivors, and we're saved now."

When he got to shore, Julius wrote down the names of his crew mates, crossing off the names of those who did not survive, including Christensen. "His wife got my address, and she wanted to know how he died, and I didn't have the heart to tell her. I just told her he was dead and I saw him die."

Bellin didn't tell anyone about his terrifying night at sea until about five years ago. Fighting back tears, Bellin said, "I didn't have the heart to tell my children, or anyone, until a publisher from New York called me up and asked me if I would write a story about what happened. He said, 'If you don't tell it, your story will be dead and your family will never know about it.'"

Sharing his story with the author of "No Surrender. True Stories of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard in World War II" has helped him heal ... and so has the Honor Flight trip he just made last week with fellow veterans to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. "Oh, I'll tell you what, that was something to see."

On the flight home, they were given letters of gratitude from school kids. With emotion in his voice, Bellin read one child's note. "Thank you for protecting our country. Because of you, I can go to school and be safe. I appreciate you risking your life to serve in the military."

When they returned home from Washington, D.C., "There were a lot of people greeting us, thanking us, and welcoming us home. It made us feel like we did a good job."

Sixty-five years later, Julius Bellin still remembers the men on his list who didn't come back home ... and he'll always be thankful he did.

"Life has been good to me. I feel good that I served the country. I did the best that I could."

Originally published November 26, 2009
Madison, Wisconsin


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