Wartime service an 'invaluable learning experience'
Franklin County Times
William "Bill" Pennington of Russellville describes his seven-year stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II as an invaluable learning experience.
"I got an education I could not have gotten out of textbooks or classrooms," Pennington said. "I learned something about people I never could have imagined. I found out how fast a person could grow up."
Pennington grew up in Tuscumbia and joined the Navy as a machinist first mate in 1940, and he retired as a Chief Petty Officer first class in 1946. He served on a destroyer and was also stationed at Pearl Harbor shortly after it was attacked in 1941.
"I served in the north Atlantic and the Pacific. I was stationed on a destroyer, the (U.S.S.) O'Brien – it sank in the Pacific after I got off it, and I spent three years at a submarine base in Pearl Harbor from 1942-45," Pennington said.
After he was discharged, Pennington and his wife, Katie, who passed away last January, settled down in Russellville to raise their five children – William H. Pennington, Jr., Daniel LeRoy Pennington, Marsha Joyce Hunt, Wanda Carol Dobbins and Kaye Evelyn McDonald.
"After I retired from the U.S. Navy, I spent some time in Ohio, and I spent 29 years with Reynolds Metals in Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Listerhill," he said. "I've been living here since 1946, although I lived in Colbert County for a little while."
Pennington decided to write his memoirs so that his children would understand what his military service meant to their family.
"In 1991 my wife and I sat down and put it on tape for our children's sake. It was just a personal thing, and not for publication. We called it "This is Your Life," and it was printed on a pamphlet," Pennington said.
"I believe my service gave me a greater respect for my family."
He said he developed a close bond with his shipmates and learned the value of discipline.
"I know how close people can become when they live together, hundreds of men living on a floating city a few hundred feet long and forty or fifty feet wide, sleeping three deep in quarters forty by forty feet square. I learned what it means to share your innermost feelings with a buddy who was just as anxious to share his with you," Pennington said.
"I learned what discipline is all about – how to obey orders and how to give them."
He said his military service also taught him a deep and unwavering sense of patriotism and believes that the U.S. flag deserves respect.
"Perhaps most of all, I learned what patriotism is all about. I learned that by comparison, America is second to none," he said.
"I obtained a respect for 'Old Glory' … it makes me sick to think of anyone showing disrespect for it. To me, to burn the flag is next to treason. The view that it is 'just a piece of cloth' does not hold water for me. You cannot separate the flag from the Constitution, or the county. The flag is country."