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Each veteran has a unique story.

After serving two decades in the U.S. Navy, at sea during two wars, Unicoi County native Edward Wardrupe has quite a story to share.
With World War II raging, during his senior year at Unicoi County High School, Wardrupe decided in 1944 to volunteer for the Navy.
“I was 17 then,” Wardrupe said in a recent interview. “My dad had to take the (family) Bible over to Johnson City to the recruiting office to prove my age.”
After signing up to join the Navy, Wardrupe was sent to Nashville for an examination to ensure that he was physically capable of joining; On Dec. 19, 1944, he was sworn in and his career in the U.S. Navy officially began.
Wardrupe’s first journey as a Navy-man was to Great Lakes, Ill., for boot camp, an experience he said “was new to me and everybody there.”
He served in the color guard during boot camp, which was cut short by two weeks.
“Boot camp was supposed to last 12 weeks, but I guess they were in a hurry and it only lasted 10 weeks,” he said.
After completing boot camp, Wardrupe said he returned to Unicoi County for a brief visit before making his way to San Francisco, Calif., to “catch a troop ship.”
There were about 5,000-6,000 navy people and Marines on (the troop ship),” Wardrupe said. “We went to Hawaii and stopped there a couple of days. Then we went to the Caroline Islands to a little atoll called Ulithi.”
During the journey to these Pacific islands, Wardrupe said an announcement was made to the ship that President Franklin Roosevelt had died; this was April 12, 1945.
Ulithi was a major staging point for the Navy during the last year of the Second World War.
“(Ulithi) was a big anchorage,” Wardrupe said. “There must have been a hundred ships there, every kind of ship in the Navy.”
When he arrived at Ulithi, the Battle for Okinawa was taking place and he was transferred from the troop ship to the USS Sands, a Clemson-class destroyer, in April 1945.
“The USS Sands was an old World War I ‘four-stacker’ destroyer,” he said. “They had cut two of the stacks off and put landing craft boats there and used the ship to take Marines to land … Back then I was the low man on the totem pole. I was on the deck force; we just mostly chipped paint and painted.”
Wardrupe said the Sands patrolled around Okinawa until returning to the west coast of the United States.
At this time, “the war was kind of winding down,” Wardrupe said.
After the Sands returned to the United States, Wardrupe spent his time in San Francisco; it was there where he celebrated, as did millions of others, one of the most significant events of the twentieth century – VJ Day, the end of the Second World War.
“That was some night,” Wardrupe said of the celebration of VJ Day.
While the war may have ended, Wardrupe’s time in the Navy continued: he returned to the Sands for a journey from California to Pennsylvania.
“The Sands’ home port was in Philadelphia, Pa.,” he said. “So we came around and went through the Panama Canal up to the Navy shipyard there … The ship was so old they put it out of commission.”
Wardrupe was then assigned to Florida.
“(The Navy) was putting a lot of ships out of commission on St. Johns River,” he said. “I helped put two destroyer escorts out of commission.”
While living in Florida, Wardrupe was discharged from the Navy; he returned to Unicoi County in April 1946 and decided to finish his high school education.
“I had been playing football (for UCHS) and I went back and played football that season,” he said. “The next spring I got my diploma.”
Wardrupe said the lack of gainful employment in the county led him to rejoin the Navy in July 1947. After rejoining he traveled to Long Beach, Calif., and boarded a light cruiser.
“We went to China and Japan,” Wardrupe said. “Then we came back to San Francisco and we put that ship out of commission.”
In January 1948, Wardrupe was sent to Radar School in Treasure Island, Calif. He completed his training there in June 1948.
“When I got out of that school I was assigned to a minesweeper out of San Diego,” he said. “We headed for Japan.”
That minesweeper was the USS Kite.
“Our job was to check-sweep every harbor around Japan so the harbors could be declared open for commercial shipping. The U.S. government wouldn’t declare the harbor open until we swept it,” Wardrupe said. “We would go in a harbor and stream our minesweeping gear.”
They were searching for contact mines, magnetic mines, pressure mines and acoustic mines, he added.
The Kite remained around Japan into mid-1950.
“We were sweeping in between Japan and China when the war broke out in Korea,” Wardrupe said. “The next morning we made our way to Pusan, Korea … When we arrived there were already some dead men floating in the water. They would go out with the tide and come in with the tide.”
An invasion of Wonsan, Korea, was planned for October 1950; however, before the invasion could take place, the numerous sea mines placed off the east coast of Korea had to be dealt with.
“They said that was the biggest minefield in the world,” Wardrupe said. There were rings and rings of mines about 10-20 miles from the (Wonsan) harbor. The invasion force was on troop ships there … The only way they could get in there was to head right in.”
The Kite’s mission, he also said, was to find and sink mines in the harbor to give the invasion force safe passage to Wonsan. The USS Pirate and the USS Pledge were also in the mine-infested waters off Korean.
“We were out about an hour and the Pirate hit a mine and sunk, then the Pledge hit a mine and sunk,” Wardrupe said.
This left Wardrupe’s ship, the Kite, and another AM, or Admiral-class minesweeper, in the harbor. This AM picked up survivors from the Pirate and the Pledge.
“I was on the helm (of the Kite) and the captain came up and said, ‘Wardrupe, can you see the mines over there?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And he said, ‘Just try to dodge them,’” Wardrupe said. “The lead helmsman and the engineer were in the wheelhouse with me and they were looking out both sides and guiding me.
“They had been plotting where they had been cutting a channel (through the minefield) and except for the mines we could see, we knew there wasn’t anymore under the water. It probably took us an hour or longer to get back out of the harbor.”
Following this incident, which Wardrupe described as “very scary,” the Kite, with Wardrupe aboard, continued to sweep for mines up and down the coast of Korea during the Korean War.
He was on the Kite until August 1951. when he was reassigned to the USS Flicker. He served on the Flicker until June 1952 when he was discharged again.
“I was a second class petty officer at that time,” Wardrupe said.
He returned to Unicoi County and again did not find any means of gainful employment, so he decided to re-enlist in the Navy in January 1953. He was assigned to the USS Conecuh.
“(The Conecuh) was an old German hunter-killer submarine supply ship,” Wardrupe said. “The Navy got it and fixed it up … It could carry all kinds of fuel, diesel, gas, ammunition, dry stores.
“We refueled and resupplied an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.”
Wardrupe remained on the Conecuh until May 1954. Between May 1954 and November 1956 he served on the USS Marias, a fleet oiler, and the USS Chambers, a destroyer escort and radar picket ship.
During the Cold War, Wardrupe served on the Chambers.
“We would go up just off the coast of Iceland and patrol up and down with sonar and radar tracking aircraft and reporting it to NORAD, North American Air Defense,” Wardrupe said. “The thought was that if Russia was going to attack us from the air they would come down over Iceland.”
In March 1956, after returning to Boston from a trip to Newfoundland, Wardrupe met the woman who would become his wife in the Boston Navy yard. Wardrupe left the Chambers in November 1956; he and his wife Phyllis were married in December 1956.
“I got discharged off the Chambers and we got married,” Wardrupe said. “I had 30 days leave. We came down here and met my people. I had orders to go to Long Beach, Calif., and catch a destroyer, the USS Leonard F. Mason.”
He served on the Mason until March 1958, when he received orders to attend Ground Control Approach, or GCA, School in Oletha, Kansas.
“I got certified as a GCA operator and I went to New Orleans Naval Air Station,” he said. “I was a first class petty officer then and I stayed there from July 1958 and until September 1961.”
While he was in New Orleans, Wardrupe was promoted to chief petty officer.
After his service in New Orleans, Wardrupe was assigned to the USS Camp, another destroyer escort, whose home port was in Newport, R.I.
He served on the Camp, which patrolled the northeastern Atlantic, until May 1965, when he was promoted to the admiral’s staff.
“My job there was in readiness and training for all the cruisers and destroyers in the Atlantic Fleet,” Wardrupe said.
He remained on the admiral’s staff until he retired from the Navy on Aug. 15, 1967. When he retired, he had served for 21 years and three months, 16 years of which were spent on sea duty.
After his retirement, Wardrupe, Phyllis and their two daughters moved to Asheville, N.C.
In his post-naval career, Wardrupe put the education he acquired and skills he learned in the Navy to use. Just outside Asheville, in Rossman, N.C., Wardrupe went to work at a NASA tracking station. The National Security Administration took over operations of the tracking station in 1980. Wardrupe worked at the tracking station until he retired in 1986.
He eventually moved back to Unicoi County to his family’s home place in the south end in of the county.
He fondly looks back on his two decades of service and said that he “misses the camaraderie” he experienced.
“I’m thinking of rejoining,” he said with a laugh.