SILVERDALE — It was more than 72 years ago, and yet the sight of Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped stands out most to Raymond Tee.
“It was just devastating. There was nothing left of it,” said Tee, who was a machinist mate aboard the USS Ammen (DD 527), the first Navy ship to visit Nagasaki after the bombing. “One hundred thousand people died instantly, and another 50,000 died later from radiation problems and burns. POWs were coming in from camps to the hospital ship. That was depressing too.”
But like many military personnel who served in the Second World War, he did his best to put the horrors of war behind him and get on with his life. And what a life it’s been: A career as chief engineer for Alaska State Ferries, world travel, and a 70-year marriage that produced two children, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
And at noon Jan. 3 at The Barn at Clearbrook Inn, he and his wife Helen (“Holly”) celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, as well as their 91st birthdays (hers was Dec. 2, his is Feb. 4). They were joined by their daughter, Dori Cranmore, some of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and friends.
Raymond was born in Newport, Holly in Iowa. Like many Midwesterners, Holly’s family moved west because the war was on and this is where the jobs were. Her father landed a job with Kaiser Aluminum.
Raymond enlisted in the Navy in 1945 and was stationed aboard the USS Ammen as it embarked for the South China Sea, where he and his shipmates would spend four months at general quarters as the Navy fought off kamikaze planes and boats off the coast of Okinawa. Hostilities ceased in mid-August and USS Ammen departed Okinawa for Nagasaki on Sept. 7, arriving there on the 15th — 37 days after the bomb was dropped there.
Tee later donated photos he took with his 127 camera to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
The USS Ammen served in Japan’s waters until Nov. 17, when it headed to Charleston, South Carolina for inactivation overhaul. The ship was decommissioned on April 15, 1946 and Tee, who had attained the rank of machinist mate third class, was honorably discharged.
Raymond and the former Helen Struchen met on a blind date in Spokane after the war. “She was wearing a ring at the time, so I had to work awful hard at it,” he recalled.
Her suitor was a sports reporter. “He didn’t like to dance; she loved to dance,” Tee recalled. “Of course, he’s covering sports on the evenings and weekends, doesn’t like to dance. Well, as soon as my buddy told me that, I said, ‘Bingo, ka-ching’,” Tee said, his eyes lighting up.
After asking her to dinner, Raymond took Holly to an Italian restaurant; he was acquainted with the owner.
“I winked at Monty when he came around with the menus and he turned some soft music on, brought some candles,” Tee recalled with a chuckle. “We had a nice Italian dinner and the next time I called her up for coffee, [she was wearing] no ring.”
The couple married on Jan. 18, 1948.
Early in their marriage, “I did just about everything you could imagine — installing shelves, sheetrock finisher, machinist apprentice, truck driver for a lumberyard,” Tee said. “I started a war surplus retail store and a home improvement company, manufacturing and installing roofing and siding.”
Tee was called back to Navy service during the Korean War. He was stationed aboard the USS Charles E. Brannon (DE-446), a reserve training ship in Tacoma, from 1951-52, and advanced in rank to machinist mate second class.
After the Korean War, the couple owned an insulation business. Son David was born in 1953, daughter Dori was born in 1956. The family moved to Ketchikan, Alaska in 1957, where Raymond became an oiler for Alaska State Ferries. He retired as chief engineer after 20 years. He also became a floatplane pilot.
Over the years, Raymond and Holly Tee visited Africa, Australia, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Egypt, Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, and Venezuela. They moved to Hood Canal in the 1980s and now live at Clearbrook Inn. But they are still active, and will drive to Arizona for three weeks on Jan. 5.
He doesn’t like to dwell on his war experiences, but he attended a local reunion of kamikaze-attack survivors in 2002. And ever the sailor, he speaks of “dogging down the hatches of the powder room” with as much ease as “how do you do.”
— Kitsap News Group reporter Nick Twietmeyer contributed to this story.