USS New York BB 34, LPD 21: Generations Apart but Forever Bound
Two Sailors talk of the difference 70 years makes
It's early December 1944. The United States has left three years of war in its wake since the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.
The USS New York (BB 34) begins "refresher" gunnery training off Southern California in preparation for amphibious operations in the Pacific Theater - more specifically, she was preparing for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, two key battles for America during World War II. One of the powdermen on the guns happens to be U. S. Navy Musicians Mate 2nd Class Pete Pane.
Early December 2014, 70 years later, another second class petty officer, Cryptologic Technician 2nd Class Jerry A. "Jay" Velez, sets sail for a seven-month deployment in the Middle East on the newest USS New York (LPD 21). In November 2015, USS New York spends a five-day port visit in its namesake state to celebrate Veterans Week in New York City. The former MU2 Pane is not far away, ashore in Brooklyn. These two Sailors are forever bound to "USS New York," albeit by different circumstances, different vessels, and different generations. How they ended up in the Navy, what rates they chose, and what eras they experienced are worlds apart - yet timeless and connected.
Pane, a resident of Brooklyn, was born in New York City but grew up near Scranton, Pennsylvania. He joined the Navy at age 17, in February 1944, because it was inevitable he would be drafted during war time.
Velez, 28, also from Brooklyn, joined the Navy at age 21 to start a new tradition in his family and be the first to enter the service. Velez wanted to do something that made a change in the world.
Pane, on the other hand, had expected to just be changing keys, not changing the world. Both a saxophonist and a clarinetist, he started his Navy service attending boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland.
"Bootcamp was an education on being responsible about everything," Pane said. "I was a spoiled rotten prince at home because I was an only child!"
Pane was about to experience what it was like to have thousands of brothers. When he arrived to the 27,000-ton New York, he was in shock, not only by the size of the war vessel, but because he soon learned that playing instruments would not be his only assignment.
He and his fellow musicians ended up with major collateral duty - powdermen, or gunmen, manning BB 34's 51 5-inch guns.
In contrast, Velez wanted to join the Navy to make it a career.
"I genuinely wanted to go into a special warfare type of path, and provide intelligence support to the front line war fighters," he said.
While both second class petty officers served during a time of war, their war experiences are quite different. During Velez's deployment, LPD 21 was part of the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). At least twice during the tour they offloaded Marines and equipment for training exercises.
Coincidently, Pane saw action at the actual island of Iwo Jima, and for the Marines that other ships offloaded to go ashore, it was for anything but training, as history famously tells. Things really heated up when BB 34 started firing on the island February 16, 1945. For three days, the ship's weaponry pummeled the island before the troop invasion which lasted for weeks. Pane took part in it on the 51" guns. To this day, he said he is still in awe of what awaited him in the Navy compared to what he thought he'd be doing. There he was in the heat of battle, firing guns at the enemy instead of firing off great tunes.
Keeping family informed while out to sea is also quite a different experience for Velez than it was for Pane. Things like Facebook, e-mail, and shipboard phones didn't exist for Pane. Handwritten letters were Pane's only option, and even that was censored.
Another major difference for Pane is that he never served on a ship with females, whereas Velez has never known a Navy without them.
"Women, men - we are all there to do a job, and as long as a person can do it, no matter what gender, it doesn't bother me," said Velez. "I've seen women on our ship do better work than some men on a task that would typically be given to a male."
Berthing spaces have also changed quite a bit.
When he wasn't training or entertaining, Pane said he would be in berthing, where bunks were stacked four or five high. In the Pacific Theater, he said, it was so hot that he slept with life jackets in cooler areas around the ship.
However, on LPD 21 the berthing areas aren't too bad at all, said Velez. The racks are newly designed and provide ample space to sit up or move around.
Throughout his service, Pane said he felt that the Navy took great care of him and served him well. He was able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, attending the Juilliard School of Music in New York.
Velez also believes the Navy can serve him and others well. He said the Navy has plenty of tools to help Sailors with whatever their life and career goals may be.
Although their Naval service is lapsed by nearly 70 years, with Pane serving just two years, and Velez planning to serve 20 or more, the sense of duty, and the pride and patriotism that they both carry align with the Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment. Technology and circumstances change, but service and sacrifice remain the same.
**Author's Note - Interestingly, these two different vessels named USS New York are also connected by an historic date. While state names are presently reserved for submarines, LPD 21 was an exception. At the time, the State of New York requested the name be bestowed on a surface warship involved in fighting terrorism to honor the victims of terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Exactly 90 years before, BB 34 was laid down not far away in the New York Naval Ship Yard, Brooklyn, on Sept. 11, 1911.