MYRTLE BEACH — When Tommy Dugan first stepped on the USS Intrepid in 1943 at 19 years old, he wasn’t sure what was in store for him.
Dugan, now 89, was heading to sea with the hope of working as an airplane mechanic while serving his country during World War II.
On Aug. 16, Dugan and 12 other original sailors who served on the Intrepid when it first sailed to the Pacific Ocean returned to the ship – which now serves as a museum in New York – to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its commissioning during the height of World War II.
Dugan, who’s lived on the Grand Strand since 1966, was one of about 300 sailors invited to the celebration on the 27,100-ton vessel that has been a tourist attraction on the West Side of Manhattan since 1982 as the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
“It brings back old memories,” Dugan said last week. “We got hit five times – once by torpedo and four kamikazes. It was scary … but we’d just put out the fires and try to repair it as best we could.”
Dugan moved to Myrtle Beach and worked at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base as an airplane mechanic instructor until he retired just before the base closed in 1993.
Dugan’s wife Dixie said she always enjoys when they travel to the Intrepid museum. Tommy Dugan said he’s been about five times.
“It was quite an experience,” Dixie Dugan said. “It was a neat trip because everyone was great. Every time we went someplace people knew what we were doing there and thanked Tommy for his service.”
Tommy Dugan said while training to fix airplanes he volunteered to become an aircraft gunner.
“When they gave me my physical they discovered I was color blind,” he said. “They said I couldn’t be a pilot. And I’m actually glad. There were times I would say, ‘Lord, thank you for making me color blind.’ A lot of planes didn’t come back.”
Now Dugan said he enjoys the opportunities to visit the Intrepid, a place that was home for two years, and see the ones he served with.
Dugan said he and the other sailors who were on the ship from 1943 to 1945 have remained close throughout the years and enjoyed being reunited.
“We’re really close-knit,” he said. “I was real happy to see them. Some of us are way up in age and not getting around very well. The oldest there was 92.”
He said he’s glad the ship is being used as a museum for those who weren’t alive to learn about World War II and what it meant.
“It’s kind of one to remember – World War II – and what a trying time it was,” he said. “Everyone in the country was involved in the war one way or another. Factories were running 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Every waking moment the war was on your mind.”
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.