WHITMIRE — Sharp dress blues and stories from abroad led 17-year-old Sam Berry to drop out of Newberry High School and join the Navy in 1952.
Today, on the final patriotic holiday before he attends an honor flight to the nation’s capitol, Berry reflected on his service and the road he travelled to become the man he is today.
His father signed him up for the Navy in 1952 against his mother’s objections when Berry was just 17.
“I don’t recommend people quit school like that but for me it was the perfect thing to do,” Berry said.
Berry said he felt he was not adequately prepared for Newberry High School coming from the now closed Long Lane School and that contributed to his joining the Navy.
He ultimately joined after Whitmire resident Oscar Frye returned home from a stint in the Navy in uniform and full of interesting stories.
Berry completed naval boot camp in San Diego, Calif. From 1952-55 he served on a submarine destroyer, a small vessel which he said required a great deal of discipline due to tight quarters.
The ship on which he served disrupted supply lines heading into Korea and, he said, even did a bit of spying on the Soviet Union. They also did shore bombardment of North Korea.
He said the mountainous regions they bombed were similar to North Carolina topography. He recalled how the artillery crew tried to bomb trains as they were exposed from tunnel to tunnel. To Berry’s knowledge none of his colleagues successfully hit a train but the bombing inconvenienced the Koreans who had to continually rebuild the tracks.
Berry, who served as a boatswain’s mate, said he also worked some on antiaircraft guns while the ship was in Korea.
But when the ship neared an island, he changed to the job of handling munitions for the big enclosed guns the ship had beneath the water line. He handle 5-inch 38s, some of the biggest shells the Navy had on warships at that time.
“We basically put up a wall of lead and let an airplane run into it,” he said.
The destroyer also carried torpedoes and depth charges. The ship earned six battle stars while on patrol including one silver star and five bronze stars.
They patrolled the China straits and he also went to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Okinawa and made stopovers in Hawaii.
During one nine month cruise, Berry said the ship was hit five times and sustained heavy damage, requiring over two months of dry dock repairs in California. While the ship was in dry docks in 1955, he was transferred to a base in Key West, Fla., to serve the final six months of his service commitment.
Scars of war
He said some 60 years ago he spent 15 minutes on Korean soil and that has impacted his opinion of United States citizenship and freedoms ever since.
Berry said though he escaped war without physical injuries, the heavy fighting his ship was in in a 1952 incident in Was-an Harbor caused him to have post traumatic stress disorder.
He earned the rank of gun captain on the aircraft guns but said “once I left the service and got off of the big guns, I have not cared much for guns since.”
Berry received the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the Korean Medal, the U.N. Korean Service Award, the Republic of Korea Service Award, the Freedom Isn’t Free Award and the China Service Award.
During his final six months of service, he delivered mail on a Key West naval station tasked with atomic underwater warfare research. As a mail petty officer, he delivered the top secret materials until his discharge in 1955.
Navy led to masonry
Berry is a fourth generation mason and chimney builder. For a while he worked with the Otis Elevator Company building elevator cars and he also learned to run conduit and hang rails and shafts while working in Alabama for Bill Brewer.
When his wife became pregnant and he realized he needed to be home more with his family, they returned from Alabama to Newberry, to Queens where he became a mason and worked alongside his dad, uncle and cousins.
He worked on Mid-Carolina High School in 1958 and on Mayer Memorial Lutheran Church. He retired at age 63, having built chimneys all over the county as well.
He married his second wife, Jacqueline Inman Berry, about five years ago. Prior to that he was married to the late Alice Moore Berry for 51 years, with whom he had three sons.
Berry retired from work as a brick mason and still lives in the Queens area of Newberry County, near Whitmire.
He and his wife travel some though they are limited since much of his time is dedicated to being her caregiver due to chronic health issues.
Berry is passionate about his hometown, particularly the Queens area, and about the U.S. Navy.
For a story on the USS Newberry, shared in part thanks to his contacting The Observer, see page 7.