USS Beloit embodies community spirit
8 May 2022
MARINETTE, Wis.—In countless ways, the USS Beloit embodies much more than a single name. It carries the innumerable and figurative weight of a community’s military heritage, sacrifice and courage in conjunction with its hard-working industries that include company’s like Fairbanks Morse Defense (FMD).
“When I think about the USS Beloit and how it is powered by an engine manufactured right in our community, I think about Beloit and how it is powered by people,” City of Beloit Manager Lori Curtis Luther told the people gathered for Saturday’s christening ceremony in Marinette. “We (the Beloit community) take great pride in our roots and the variety of cultures represented in our community, we have a rich history and Fairbanks Morse Defense has played a significant role for 150 years … and it is through the hard work and tenacity of these men and women who a played crucial role in protecting our nation neighbors during (conflict).”
To comprehend that deep heritage of service and sacrifice, one need not open a history book for long hours of research. Instead, one need only see the many faces of those who attended the USS Beloit’s christening and launch. Thanks to the efforts of several Beloit officials and VetsRoll organization based in the Beloit area and founded by John and Mark Finnegan, close to 30 Beloit-area veterans were granted an opportunity to attend the ceremony.
The essence of USS Beloit’s namesake inhabited the eyes of those men and women which included World War II veterans George Olson, Salvatore Caruana and Salvador Perce—three of five individuals honored during the ceremony.
Olson, a Beloit resident, served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during WWII. He fought aboard a Fletcher-class destroyer named the USS Twiggs.
At Iwo Jima, while providing artillery cover for Marines, the Twiggs faced air attacks by Japanese Kamikazes and suffered many crew casualties. During combat it was Olson’s job to feed ammunition into the ship’s five-inch gun. Following a severe Kamikaze bombardment in April of 1945, Olson was tasked with lining up sailors killed in action on the deck of the ship to prepare them for transport home.
“Events (on the Twiggs) come back to my mind a lot,” Olson said.
In June of 1945, during combat off the coast of Okinawa, a Japanese torpedo hit the Twiggs’ forward weapons magazines. The torpedo strike unleashed a concussive explosion that ripped through the Twiggs and the ship sand in less than a hour, killing 126 of the 300 crew members. Olson was the only survivor among his shipmates in the fire room section of the ship. For two-and-a-half months the Twiggs had fought at Okinawa, the deadliest Naval battle in U.S. history.
After the war, Olson went to work for Fairbanks Morse. Drawing from his Navy experiences, he offered a few poignant words of advice to future sailors who might serve onboard the USS Beloit.
“All I can say is be true to your oath and do your best, just be honest and true to yourself,” he said.
Caruana, a 101-year-old WWII veteran from Rockford, Illinois, served with the 104th Infantry Division (“Timberwolf Division”) as a forward field observer in Europe and fought in several clashes during the Battle of the Bulge. His time in the war started in 1942 and lasted through the end of the war in 1945. He helped liberate Dora-Mittelbau, a German concentration camp where he witnessed the tragic consequences of Nazi atrocities committed against the Jewish people.
“I never expected to see anything that horrible …the smell, the smell was horrific,” Caruana recounted.
At Saturday’s launch, he expressed a great appreciation to the people of Beloit and Marinette. He felt that the ceremony of for the USS Beloit demonstrated an optimistic outlook.
“I think it shows we are unified,” he said. “It is wonderful what they are doing for the City of Beloit.”
Perce, originally from Chicago but who now lives in Janesville, served three and half years in the U.S. Army during WWII, which included 18 months in the Pacific theater as part of the 81st Infantry Division. He said the USS Beloit may serve as inspiration for others to serve their country.
“It encourages (those service members) and gives them something to think about,” Perce said. “The people of Wisconsin have been very kind to us.”
In addition to the three WWII battlefield veterans honored at the ceremony, those who served at home during the war also were honored.
Eva Hoff and Fung Scholz, both of Beloit, took up jobs on factory floors during the war, playing a critical support role for companies like Fairbanks Morse Defense as members of the hundreds of thousands of WWII-era women of the workforce who became known as “Rosie the Riveters.”
During the war, as a large portion of the U.S. male population enlisted for military service, women joined the workforce in factories.
Fung Scholz started working at age 18 in 1944 for Fairbanks Morse during the war. At the time, she helped manufacture the company’s 24-cylinder submarine engines for the Navy.
“There were very few women in the shop at that time, so of course, when I went to take my lunch break, I’d get whistles all the way down the aisle from the guys,” she said with a smile. “But it was a great job. And now, to be recognized for it, I think it is a wonderful honor.”
Eva Hoff, worked in quality control for another Beloit company that no longer exists. Two weeks after graduating high school she started work there. When she started there was only one other girl and two men in her department. After the war, she continued working for another 50 years for the company. She offered a bit of succinct advice to young people seeking work today.
“Get a good education and find something you like to do,” Hoff said. “At that time you didn’t have a lot of choice.”
Looking ahead to the future of the USS Beloit—and the city—perhaps Vice Adm. Francis Morley put it best during the ceremony:
“As the 29th littoral combat ship and the 15th Freedom variant class, I know the future USS Beloit will write her own chapter in the storied history of the United States Navy,” Morley said. “I am confident in its crew.”