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WWII vet remembers his time in the military

Jim Catt remembers both good things and bad things about his time in the U.S. Navy.

As he talks about his time in the South Pacific and the Philippines during World War II, Catt occasionally has to pause, tears welling up in his eyes.

"I get a little sentimental," he said.

But he remembers his service with pride.

"We were all over and we did a job that had to be done," Catt said.

His ship, the light cruiser USS Mobile, had a distinctive combat record in the war. It shot down 15 Japanese aircraft, bombarded 10 islands, and sank two troop transports, a submarine, a light cruiser, a heavy cruiser and an aircraft carrier. Catt served as a seaman on the ship, working at gunmount No. 4, one of the batteries of 5-inch guns on the Mobile.

The Mobile also had emplacements of 6-inch guns, and two airplanes for surveillance and targeting - "gooney birds," Catt calls them.

Catt has seven battle stars for participating in seven of the Mobile's 10 major engagements. He said he thinks about his time in combat a lot.

He talked about shooting at the two transport ships, and seeing the Japanese soldiers die in the water.

"They can say what they want. (The Japanese soldiers) were people too," he said.

"It was something that had to be done, and we did it," Catt added.

He has a different opinion about the U.S. action in Iraq, although he pointed out that the soldiers there have no choice about the conflict.

"There's nothing they can do. They're just following orders," Catt said. "It's bad news. I don't think we ever should have gone in there."

He said that since the fighting in Iraq has a religious side, with Islamic militants wanting Westerners out of their country, he doesn't think the fighting will stop soon.

"There's only one way out and I don't know what that is," he said.

Catt, a Kansas native, joined the Navy in February 1944. After finishing basic training, he spent the next two years on the Mobile, until he left the service in May 1946.

He said there were good times and bad times during the war. He made many friends. He also saw many of them die.

The combat often was intense, he said, like at Saipan - "Dive bombers they have, kamikazes, they were diving on us"; Iwo Jima - "We had a tough time there"; Okinawa - "A lot of kamikazes there."

He remembered one time off of Formosa when two U.S. ships were disabled. The Mobile joined four other ships circling them until tugboats could tow the ships to safety.

"We circled them for five days and four nights," Catt said. "We protected them while they were dead in the water."

Catt remembered a major conflict toward the end of the war.

"(The Japanese) got their fleet together for one last hurrah," he said. "The two fleets met head on. That's when all hell broke loose."

That was the battle when the Mobile sank the aircraft carrier, the heavy cruiser and the light cruiser.

Catt said the Mobile was sent to the Philippines to be refitted after that battle, before going to combat at Kyushu, one of the four major islands composing Japan. Before it could, the United States dropped the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"Then they dropped the big one and we didn't have to go. Thank God for that," Catt said.

He met his future wife, former Havreite Maxine Wilson, after the war while he was still in the Navy, while the Mobile was docked in Seattle.

"I chased her 'til she caught me," he added.

The couple ended up in Havre in 1949, where Catt first worked as a mechanic, then a machinist.

Then he followed in his father-in-law's footsteps.

Andrew Wilson served with the Havre Police Department for 33 years. Catt served for 20 years, and retired as chief of police in 1977. He then went to work for the Burlington Northern Railway, retiring as a brakeman in 1987.

He serves on the Honor Guard at Havre's VFW Post 497, and was part of the guard during ceremonies at the County Courthouse and Vets Club today.

Now, he said, he fills many of his hours playing pool - an hour or two five days a week at the North Central Senior Citizens Center.

"I golf a bit," Catt added. "I play at golf, I don't play golf."


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