Twin Navy veterans take divergent paths during WWII

March 14, 2014 at 10:24 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

William Rook served four years in the Navy during World War II as aviation hydraulics specialist.
William Rook served four years in the Navy during World War II as aviation hydraulics specialist.
The story of 89-year-old Norco resident William Rook is more than a story about an individual, but a study in contrasts and the role fate has in one’s life.

Rook was born on Oct. 3, 1924 along with identical brother Eddie. The two were raised on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from high school just as WWII was starting in 1942.

“At the day you were 18 you were drafted and I didn’t want to get in the Army so I went in the Navy,” he said. “My father was a Navy guy too, in World War I he was a Navy guy. So it was in our family. We decided to go in the Navy.”

Rook said the Navy lifestyle was much more desirable than those serving in the Army.

“I think it is an easier life than being in the Army digging holes in the ground. Usually, you have a pretty good bunk to sleep in at night. The cooks are better than the Army cooks. In my day they were,” he said.

Although the twins were half German, their family had assimilated into the Chicago lifestyle and were all American, but in particular celebrated their Irish heritage. While Rook waited until October to join up, Eddie joined the Navy in August and the two were separated for the first time.

“I missed him,” Rook said.

The decision to join at a later date than his brother would be fortunate for Rook though. When he went to sign up he noticed a line leading to the air cadet recruiter’s office.

Although air cadets needed at least two years of college before the war broke out, that requirement was waived once the war began and Rook got into the program. Within a few weeks he found himself in flight training.

“My life changed overnight,” he said.

While Rook made it through the initial air cadet training, he was not selected as a pilot and instead transferred into the Navy as a seaman first class. However, he would take the knowledge of aircrafts he developed and work in aviation hydraulics aboard a small aircraft carrier.

“We’d go in there and the planes that went down, we’d salvage what we could or see what was wrong with them and burn them so nobody would fool with the guns and take the guns off or take the ammo off,” he said. “If the plane landed and was able to run again you’d fix it.”

Rook said aircraft carriers and the planes aboard them were essential in fighting the Japanese.

“I don’t know if they won the war, but they keep the trouble down in the Pacific where the Japanese couldn’t stir up anything because we had that carrier there and fighter planes controlled the area,” he said.  

Early on he realized the importance of working on airplanes and what it meant to the safety of the pilots and the war effort as a whole.

“Every time you look at a place to find out what is wrong with it, you better find out because there would be one or two guys flying in that plane tomorrow,” he said. “You had to land on a carrier and didn’t have much choice. You can’t miss, there is no landing on a cornfield or anything like that.”

After beginning his journey out of San Diego aboard a retrofitted vessel that was turned into a small aircraft carrier, Rook realized rather quickly something he had not known when he had first signed up for the Navy - he suffered from seasickness.

“The ship was low to the water and had a platform on top and it would move,” he said. “We had good days and bad days. Stormy days you were sick. They had pills you could take, but they didn’t work with me. Special type of pills for seasickness, I believe they were fake pills.”  

Although he said he did not feel as bad once he heard about his brother’s experiences. Eddie had been on shipping vessel that was sunk in Europe. Uninjured, he was immediately transferred to another vessel, the USS Iowa battleship, and went to the Pacific theatre.

“I was a lucky guy. Eddie, my brother, spent three and half years on a battleship. He got off one time,” he said. “They put fuel on them at sea. They didn’t go back for nothing. He was in every major engagement.”

In contrast, after three months in battle zones Rook was transferred to his hometown of Chicago where he first took an advanced course in hydraulics and then taught other Navy recruits in hydraulics repair.

“By that time hydraulics became more complex and there was a lot more to learn,” he said.

After spending the rest of the war on land, Rook was granted his release from the Navy in early 1946 as the war was wrapping up. A few months later the war would end to both Rook and Eddie’s relief.

“It’s like getting out of jail. You didn’t have to do anything. You were on your own, the only thing you worried about was getting a job or going back to school,” he said.

Rook took the skills he learned in the Navy and put them towards civilian life as a steamfitter. After finishing an apprenticeship, he decided to head south.

“Once I got my journeyman’s card in 1948 I started traveling and got out of that cold and snow and ice,” he said.

His trade took him to Texas where he met his wife, Norco native Doradeese Rook. She was a former Army nurse who was staying in the same boarding house he was.

The two were married in 1949 and later settled in Norco where they built their home on Spruce Street where they still live in today. Although he worked for Shell for five years, he spent 50 years as steamfitter for the United Association Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 60 in New Orleans before retiring.

Together Rook and Doradeese raised six children, three of whom would later go into the military as well. One of their grandsons also recently served in the Army in Afghanistan. Rook said his military service was a great thing.

“I think everybody ought to have a turn. I think when you are 18 you ought to put at least one year or a year and a half in to learn to control yourself and listen to what you are supposed to listen to, not being out and having fun. It was a different way or life in those days,” he said.

When asked if he misses Chicago, Rook is adamant that he made the right decision by relocating.

“This is much freer. Norco was a little town when I came here and the only refinery was Shell and Good Hope,” he said.

However, when the Rooks built their home they used bricks salvaged from a Chicago building that were shipped to Norco. And if you look closely at the four columns running across their front porch, each contains a red brick right in the center from his boyhood home.

Meanwhile, his twin Eddie moved back to Chicago after the war and became a chief electrician and eventually helped install the city’s first 911 system. Eddie had five children of his own.

This profile is part of an ongoing series between the St. Charles Herald-Guide and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3750.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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