Life would have turned out much differently for Lt Commander Jack Whetsel had he liked accounting.
Whetsel took a job as an understudy to an accountant at a Waco steel plant shortly after graduating from Baylor University in 1941. “I was there for two weeks and knew I never wanted to be an accountant. I walked in one day and said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m taking your time and money and I don’t want to be an accountant. Before I get any deeper into this I’m leaving.’ They said, ‘Well if you stay here, we will get you an exemption from the armed services.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be exempt. As soon as I leave here I’m going down and volunteer with the Navy.’”
Whetsel did just that and soon found himself training for the V7 program in Chicago. Pearl Harbor was attacked during this four-month period and after graduation Whetsel was assigned to the Naval Operating Base in Newport, Rhode Island. “At that particular time, our duty was to protect the shipping off the coast from submarines. We had German submarines from Long Island Sound to Cape Cod, in the middle was Block Island, and in all that area we had some small, converted ships the head depth charges and a three or four-inch gun. We were just doing the best we could to keep the submarines away from the ships because the ships left New York and they would go up to Boston to form a Convoy to go across to England. Our job is to protect them in this area. We did a good job.”
Whetsel stayed in Newport for 18 months at which time he was assigned to the Amphibious Forces Pacific Fleet under the command of Admiral Kelly Turner. Whetsel joined Admiral Turner’s staff and soon found himself in Guam. Whetsel was in awe of Turner’s methods and strategies for victory. “I think if there is one person that had more to do with victory in the Pacific than anybody else, it was Admiral Turner…Lots of people at sea, around him called him a ‘mean, old, son-of-a-bitch,’ because he commanded…He knew what he wanted and insisted that he got it…He carried out operations with a high degree of success.”
During his time under Admiral Turner, Whetsel worked in Operations. “We had to bring ships to the right port, assign the ships to the right divisions, or whatever it was, just to move all of our shipping and our forces around.” This assignment to Operations took Whetsel all over the Pacific and lasted the duration of the war.
Whetsel remained in the Navy via the Navy Reserves for almost six years following the war. He opened a hardware store in McAllen, Texas and later became the mayor. He later sold his hardware store and retired and spent his time volunteering extensively in his community. He visited the National Museum of The Pacific War on July 16, 2002 to share his story and to praise the Admiral he’d thought so highly of. “I wouldn’t even be here if I didn’t think that Admiral Turner needed the acknowledgment for what he did.”
This piece researched at the National Museum of the Pacific War’s Nimitz Education and Resource Center.
Contributor: Gayne C. Young
Gayne C. Young is a graduate of St. Edward’s University, the former Editor-in-Chief of North American Hunter and North American Fisherman - both part of CBS Sports -and a columnist for and feature contributor to Outdoor Life and Sporting Classics magazines. His work has appeared in magazines such as Petersen’s Hunting, Texas Sporting Journal, Sports Afield, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Under Wild Skies, Hunter’s Horn, Spearfishing, and many others.