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William Slater UnderwoodFebruary 14, 1924 ~ September 21, 2017 (age 93)
On the 17th of September, 1941, a 17-year old William Slater Underwood started hitchhiking from Cherokee towards Tuscumbia with permission in hand from his mother to join the United States Navy. He was at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, with 20,000 other recruits, on December 2nd when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. His MOS was Medical Corpsman. He was transferred in January of 1943 to the Pacific Theater. “Doc,” as he was later called, ended up lowly Corpsman on the USS Howard F. Clark DE 533.
The Clark participated in screening operations for the carrier force in 1944. Doc was aboard the ship as it gave supporting fire to Marines on the Marshall Islands, Iwo Jima, and operated in the Pacific looking for downed aircraft.
In October of 1944, the Clark traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii for supplies and the crew to have shore-leave. Doc remembered how solemn an affair it was for his destroyer escort to transverse in the water past the sunken USS Arizona. It was a scene that he relived many times years later in what the Navy calls “manning the rails,” where sailors stand at attention as their ship passes the Arizona.
In December of ‘44, the Clark was involved in the Lingayen Gulf Invasion. From the 22nd of December until late January of 1945, this force was under constant attack by kamikaze planes. Doc said it was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes he had ever had. Constantly, there was anti-aircraft fire, loud explosions, and high chatter on the ship’s intercom system pointing out fire control for incoming planes attacking the fleet. The fight went on for days. The sky would be illuminated with burst of ammunition tracking incoming sortees of planes. The Clark downed several Japanese airplanes. Doc treated two downed American aviators the Clark picked up.
The ship also supported amphibious at Okinawa in March of ’45 and, at one point, was part of a group escorting the great Battleship of Missouri. In July of 1945, his little destroyer escort became part of the massive US 3rd fleet invading Japan. He had never seen that many ships in his entire life.
Doc woke up around 4:30 a.m. on September 2, 1945 – VJ Day. His ship was stationed somewhere outside Tokyo Bay. He borrowed a pair of binoculars and shimmied up the radio tower. As he looked around, he saw more fighting ships in the bay than he ever saw before.
Doc RIF from the Navy in July ’48 and ended up in Birmingham, Alabama under the GI Bill to attend mechanics school. To supplement the small amount of money he received from the government, he delivered milk. In July of 1951, he was at a six-story apartment complex delivering four gallons of milk to the sixth floor. When he got to the fifth floor, he looked out and saw some people around his truck stealing his milk. He owed Barbers $2.12 for his entire day’s work. That was his last day working for Barbers and the next day Doc rejoined the United States Navy. In February of 1953, Doc was on a landing ship troop (LST) in the Sea of Japan. When the Korean War ended, he was sent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Naval personnel do sea and land duty. To evade sea duty as a Corpsman he joined the United States Marine Corp. Company D 2nd Medical Battalion 2nd Marine Division, August 5, 1960. In October of ’62 (Cuban Missile Crises), President Kennedy mobilized the 2nd Marine Corp Division and Doc, along with the other members of the medical battalion, boarded a LST off the coast of North Carolina with over 3,000 Marines. The LST was in extremely choppy Atlantic waters for three weeks. Doc said the Marines of 1962 had nothing on the World War II and Korean War Marines. This 2nd Division Marine Detachment, in just three weeks, vomited enough to fill a WWII battleship by the time they disembarked in North Carolina.
He was stationed at the Sheffield Naval Reserve Training Center in 1964 and did 2 ½ years on the USS Robert E. Wilson in the Gulf of Tonkin off the South Vietnam coast. In 1967, Doc started a radio and TV business which he retired from in 1988.
The visitation will be at Colbert Memorial Chapel on Sunday, September 24, 2017 from 1-2 p.m. The funeral will begin at 2:00 p.m. at Colbert Memorial with Reverend James Atkinson officiating.
William S. Underwood was preceded in death by his parents, William Sebastian Underwood and Viola Slater Underwood, and his sisters, Jennie Hodek, Dorothy Sibley, Martha Underwood, and Viola Smith, along with his wife, Dorothy Underwood. He is survived in death by his sons, William J. Underwood (wife, Jennifer), and Kenneth S. Underwood (wife, Amy) and stepdaughter, Susan Wooten. His grandchildren are Nicholas Underwood, Joshua Underwood, Ryan Underwood, Caroline Underwood Hollingsworth (husband, Jonathan), Lydia Underwood Williams (husband, Chris), and Stella Underwood. He had three great- grandchildren.
Living are his sisters, Carol Courier (Charles) and Mary Amos. During his latter years, he was greatly assisted by Elizabeth Underwood, Felda McNutt and Deborah Batty.
Active pallbearers will be Nicholas Underwood, Caleb Underwood, Joshua Underwood, Jonathan Hollingsworth, Michael Hardeman, Adam Wooten, and Colin Young. The family would be remiss in not mentioning the care given for over 40 years by Ronald McCoy and Loren McCoy. Doc solely loved the United States Navy and was happy to live his life as a humble man. The online guest book may be viewed at www.colbertmemorial.com