Getting the job done

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 14, 2002

Editor’s note: Each month the members of American Legion Post No. 20 honor a different Dallas County veteran of World War II for service to their country. This month the members of Post No. 20 honor Sidney F. Trammel.

Sidney Trammel suffers from a disorder known as sleep apnea. Because of it he is apt to nod off at times in mid sentence or to become suddenly and uncontrollably emotional.

Like when he talks about what it was like to be a 17-year-old Navy machinist’s mate in the Pacific during World War II.

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He still gets emotional about that, even after 60 years.

Trammel, 78, was born in Elmore County and grew up in one of Selma’s cotton mill villages. Of those childhood days, he allows, &uot;It was hard times.&uot;

Hard enough that the young Trammel began to look for a way out &045;&045; any way out.

He tried to join the Civilian Conservation Corps, but they turned him down because he had a hernia. He went down to the old U.S. Post Office building and tried to enlist with the Army recruiter, but the Army turned him down because he was not yet 18.

The Navy recruiter across the hall, though, wasn’t quite as particular. And so in August 1941, at 17-and-a-half, Sidney Trammel got his ticket punched for three squares a day and a chance to see the world.

He was sure the hard times were behind him.

That soon changed. He was stationed in Newport News, Va., when he first heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

He recalls, &uot;I was standing by my bunk when this guy rushed in and said, ‘They bombed Pearl Harbor!’ I said, ‘Pearl who?’ He said, ‘Pearl Harbor, you fool!’&uot;

Trammel was assigned to the USS Rutherford B. Hayes, an amphibious troop transport ship.

Laden down with weapons and 85-pound backpacks, more than a few young troops died when they fell from those debarkation nets into choppy seas and sank like rocks.

Trammel was a machinist’s mate. &uot;We ran the ship,&uot; he explains. &uot;We kept the steam engines going.&uot;

It was hot, hard, dangerous work. The steam that ran the engines was maintained at 650 pounds of pressure &045;&045; enough pressure to literally cut a man in half if a pipe burst.

It was not unheard of for temperatures inside the poorly ventilated engine rooms of some of the ships to climb to 140 degrees. And if the engines ever broke down, the machinist’s mates were expected to fix whatever was wrong with whatever was at hand &045;&045; and fast. There were no repair shops in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and being left behind by the rest of the fleet was tantamount to a death sentence.

Trammel’s first big action was the invasion of Guadalcanal. More than once, his voice catches as he describes the impact that the enormity of that operation had on individual participants.

But even with the considerable armed might of the United States brought to bear, Guadalcanal was no cakewalk. &uot;They tore us up pretty good,&uot; Trammel concedes. &uot;But we tore them up, too. What we hadn’t already learned, we learned right there on the spot. Sometimes we made mistakes, and sometimes they were costly mistakes.&uot;

If Trammel developed a conscious philosophy about dealing with the daily horrors of war, it probably boiled down to something like this: Do your job. Do your job and don’t ask too many questions.

Before the war was over, Trammel would serve on the USS Carter Hall and the USS Randolph. He would contract such a severe case of malaria, that he would be sent to a stateside hospital to recuperate &045;&045; and then back again to combat. He would know the fear of being under kamikaze attack, when the usual &uot;rules&uot; of war were suspended.

And, most importantly, he would live to celebrate V-J Day.

Trammel and Uncle Sam parted company in 1947. He had, he decided, seen enough of the world by then. He returned to Selma and went to work as a lineman for Alabama Power, retiring in 1986.

He still thinks about the war from time to time, still gets emotional about it. But in time he learned to keep his emotions to himself. If he had it rough, there were others who had it far rougher. Everyone had a job to do, and no job was any more or less important than any other.

Which is why he is so perplexed by his inexplicable emotional outbursts today. It is as though he has betrayed some unspoken code, the very code by which he has lived much of his life. It is as though a sleeping disorder has opened a window on his deepest, most vulnerable self.

Trammel is pleased to have been recognized by the members of American Legion Post No. 20. Not just for himself, but for all those who went and did the job they were called to do.

For those who had to wade ashore on distant beaches wracked by hostile gunfire.

And for those who never made it any farther than the debarkation nets before meeting their fate.

For those who manned the ships that carried them there.

And for those who kept the engines on those ships running with little more than spit and baling wire.

The voice catches. The eyes fill with tears. He is unable to speak, unable to go on.

He says this as though he has done something shameful, as though he has done something he must apologize for, as though tears could ever erase what a 17-year-old boy sent to do a man’s job accomplished.

No apology necessary, Machinist’s Mate First Class Trammel. And godspeed.