NEGAUNEE - Glenn Bjork enjoyed an idylic youth growing up in Gwinn, enjoying time spent with friends fishing, swimming and playing baseball.
World War II was raging when Bjork graduated from high school and like many young men in that era, Bjork was anxious to be of service to his nation. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 18, in 1943, the branch of the military his father served in from 1912-15.
"I was an overgrown boy," he said. "I chose the Navy because I figured my chances would be better (to survive)."
Above left, Glenn Bjork served in the United States Navy during World War II in the Pacific Theater on the USS Hornet. (Bjork family photo)
Glenn Bjork made the trip to Washington, D.C., with the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight in April. He’s shown here at the World War II Memorial. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
After boot camp, Bjork trained as a machinist's mate, meaning he worked in the power plant of the ship.
"That meant my chances when we were going through torpedo alley were better than the guys who were topside, being strafed by fire," he said.
Bjork was sent to Norfolk, Va., with Company 1239, waiting to be sent to the Pacific Theater of the war. His ship was the air carrier Hornet. It was the eighth U.S. ship named the Hornet, the seventh Hornet having been lost in the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1942.
"We did a shakedown cruise first. That's when you go out and correct anything that's wrong. After that we inaugurated and were sent to the Caribbean, then through the Panama Canal," he said. "A lot of troops were stationed there and we got applause when we were going through because they knew we were another carrier heading to battle."
Once through the canal, the Hornet headed to San Diego, Calif.
"We picked up a lot of war equipment, airplanes and tanks," Bjork said. "We then went to Hawaii and unloaded a lot of the equipment. There was a big amount of men there. Most of the battleships (stationed in Hawaii) were sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor."
The Hornet headed to the Pacific war zone and was soon engaged in battles at places like Truk Island, the Mariannas Islands and Saipan.
"Truk Island was the first place we bombed. It had been a stranglehold for the Japanese," he said. "After that, we went to the New Guinea area, then worked our way up to Guam. We hit that one, then went to Saipan and the Mariannas Islands.
"We were in 11 major campaigns in the Pacific," Bjork said. "Was I nervous? Sure, at times I was. The (Japanese) wanted to come in at us on moonlit nights. We prayed for cloudy nights. We were attacked many times. We just hoped we wouldn't get hit. We were strafed several times."
Even stationed below deck as he was, Bjork heard much of the sound of war.
"We could hear it, the guns being shot off," he said. "We had a good gun crew. They shot zeroes within 1,000 feet of the carrier.
"Sometimes, when you were under attack, you had no place to run," Bjork said. "There was nothing you could do but take it and hope for the best."
At one point, there was a huge typhoon around the Hornet.
"Forty feet of the flight deck was crushed when the ship plowed under the water. We could feel the floor flexing. It was frightening."
He remembers the children on Mindanao who'd dive for coins the Hornet crew would toss into the water for them. And he recalled, sadly, the ships that were sank during enemy raids.
All these years later, Bjork is still haunted by something in particular.
"Something that still affects me is thinking about our Navy veterans on ships who were killed in action. We had no place to keep them, so we wrapped them in canvas and put a weight on them and slipped them over the side of the ship. They never came home. We stood with our dress blues on to say farewell, but the family would only get the latitude and longitude of where the body was."
Bjork happened to be home on leave, along with some buddies, when WWII came to an end.
"It kind of choked me up when the war ended," he said. "We spent all that time wondering if we would get out of it OK."
Bjork returned to the Hornet to help bring back thousands of U.S. troops from the Pacific Theater.
"It was six months of transport duty, taking the troops home from the war," he said. "They welded bunks, six and eight high, so we could bring as many home at once as possible."
Bjork believes those trips across the Pacific were of value.
"I know firsthard that allowed all those guys to talk things over, to vent their feelings," he said. "It gave them time to decompress."
Editor's note: Glenn Bjork, a Gwinn native, has lived an interesting 87 years so far. He shared some stories from his life with The Mining Journal. His tales from "the homefront" were shared Oct. 11. Today, Bjork talks about his time in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.