Ivan Bassett has some amazing stories to tell. In this week's front-page interview with Alan Pollock, the World War II veteran details his experiences aboard the Navy's 673-foot heavy cruiser USS Boston, which saw significant action in the Pacific Theater, right up to anchoring in Tokyo Bay following the surrender of Japan.
While life on the cruiser was better than on the battlefield, Bassett, a 93-year-old Chatham resident who will be the grand marshal in Chatham's Independence Day parade next week, was always cognizant that the firing of the ship's heavy guns meant death and destruction for their targets. He had the opportunity later to see the devastation caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Although it was months after the bombs fell, Bassett said he was shocked and saddened by the resulting destruction and loss of life. But like most servicemen and women at the time, and still today, he was realistic in his assessment that in ending the war, the bombs likely saved untold American and Japanese lives that would have been lost in an invasion of the island nation.
This July 4 will be very different from the one Bassett spent in 1944, when the Boston was bombarding the island of Iwo Jima, one in a line of ships trying to rout out the enemy without hitting the Marines who had already landed. He described the scene as “hell on wheels,” a “Fourth of July parade of ships.”
Every day there are fewer and fewer World War II veterans around to tell their stories. That's why this year's Chatham parade theme of honoring veterans is important, as much as a reminder to learn about their experiences and the lessons they learn as to appreciate their service. History is lost if not carried forward by succeeding generations, and it behooves us in these days of short attention spans and instant memes to stop and listen, and record for posterity, the stories of people like Ivan Bassett. As long as they're around us, we have an obligation to ensure that their legacy is carried forward.