Frank Devilbiss served on the water for two years in World War II, working as a diesel mechanic on Army boats in the Pacific. But in all that time, he never learned how to swim.
“They never learnt me to swim,” Devilbiss said. “I thought that was a thing you had to do once you become in the amphibious outfit, but no. And I still can’t swim today.”
Devilbiss, 89, was drafted into the Army in 1945 and shipped out for basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington, two months after he graduated from high school. As an 18-year-old from Thurmont, “everything was interesting” to him as he adjusted to military life and the rigors of training, he said.
The young soldier first received notice that he would be sent to Germany after basic training, but his orders were later changed to San Diego. There, he was trained as an amphibious engineer — ultimately reaching the rank of technician fifth grade — and served on landing crafts in the South Pacific, ferrying soldiers and supplies to islands around the Philippines and Japan.
“We mostly delivered into the shores any materials or anything they needed,” Devilbiss said. “Jeeps, supplies, ammo, anything. We were never stationed, but we traveled through the Pacific. We stopped at Okinawa and places like that.”
He and his fellow crew members were often on the water for a month at a time, ensuring that ships were running smoothly. The mechanical training also served him well when he returned home, landing him a job at Ox Fibre Brush Co.
“The Army taught me behavior,” Devilbiss said. “Just take the orders and obey and do what they said, and you could go right on through life. That carried over.”
— Kate Masters