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Edward Valerio shares his story about the famous Battle of Komandorski. He proudly shows a book about the battle and a photo of his receiving a commendation for his participation. / Laura Austin Photo

Edward Valerio, now 100 years old, remembers his days in the service and at war

By  LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– Edward Valerio, a  Navy veteran of two foreign wars, likes to tell stories and he is good at it. With such a long life, over 100 years, he has many stories to tell. He served during World War II and the Korean War. The News-Review spoke to him about his time in the service, what that life was like on a ship, and heard interesting details about a very famous battle. But don’t expect warm fuzzy stories about Veterans Day, he has no special feelings about it but will attend a parade if there is one.

A little research tells you that the Battle of Komandorski during World War II was one of the last pure gunnery duels between fleets of major surface combatants in Naval history. And, our hero, Edward Valerio, participated and received a commendation. This is one of many battles he saw. He was assigned to the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Salt Lake City where he was a Ship Servicemen. He explains, “I had charge of the Ship’s Store, the canteens, where they sell candy and all that stuff.”

   However, during battles, he tells us, “I was at my battle station down at the magazines.”

Regarding the famous battle, he says, “The Battle of Komandorski is one of the longest battles the Navy ever fought. Every morning we had routine General Quarters at four o’clock. That means ‘Man your battle stations.’ At six o’clock radar, we had just gotten radar, and picked up a group of bogeys (unidentified craft considered hostile). It was a group of  Japanese transport ships. 

“We started firing on them and we hit a couple of them. And all of a sudden we saw some warship masts come over. It was the other group of Japanese.  They started firing. We were outnumbered; we only had two cruisers, Salt Lake City and the Richmond .The Japanese had four cruisers and six destroyers.” The Japanese were 19,000 yards out. “The Richmond was a light cruiser and her gunnery couldn’t fire that long. Salt Lake could. 

   “Salt Lake started firing; we had four gun turrets, 10 guns. Each turret was taking turns shooting different ships at the same time. They were out of range. They were after us and we turned tail. Every time they fired we got pushed back. That battle lasted over four and a half hours. The aft turrets expended all her ammunition so we had to transfer ammunition from forward to back aft because we didn’t have any more guns and we couldn’t fire the forward guns.” 

The next battle decision turned the tide. “We ran out of armor-piercing shells. So they start firing bombarding shells and bombarding shells go way up (he gestures to the sky) and they come down and they break open like a bomb. The Japanese thought the Air Force was up there. It was already a four-hour battle and we had plenty of time to get planes out there.” The planes were in the Aleutian Islands and didn’t make it.

 “The shells were firing down. They looked like bombs. The Japanese started firing in the air. There was nothing up here. And then they turned tail. And that’s what saved us that day.”

During the battle, Valerio manned his station. “I sent  powder bags up to the turret.” The bags were about two and a half feet long and 10 inches in circumference. “I put them in a hoist and they went up to the turret. The decks above us did the same thing with shells. They had 8” shells that weighed 200 and some odd pounds.

“I couldn’t see anything, because I was down in the magazines. We could ask questions; the guys that were observers would be telling us what was going on. We got hit one time and we lost two men in that battle, a Lt. Commander and an Electrician. We had about 60 wounded though.” 

Before the war, the Salt Lake City had about 900 men on board. Then war broke out and men who survived Pearl Harbor were brought into service on her. They had about 1300 or 1400 men on board. ‘Everything was routine. Get up in the morning. Do whatever you’re supposed to do. They had General Quarters man your battle station. Go through drills; we used to drill all the time.”

They had divisions within the ship. “There were about 40 people in one division. You had tier bunks;  four bunks and I slept on the top one next to the overhead. I was close to the airflow. There was a little hole there that hit me right in the chest and it kept me cool in the summer.”

Valerio’s eyes light up when asked about R&R. It seems he had fun with his buddies although they weren’t near major ports. “It was only islands. There were only natives. R&R was only good for a beer run. We couldn’t drink beer on board so we took it to an island. We had a party and we drank beer. Guys would be gambling, shooting dice, playing cards, and fighting, with the Marines.”

A destroyer would deliver mail once every two or three weeks. Valerio got mail from his girlfriend who wrote every day and he would write her every day. He would spend hours, late into the night, reading all of his mail from her.

When the war ended in 1948, the Salt Lake City was sunk. “They took her outside Long Beach and they had target practice on her. That’s what they did with the old ships because she was old. “   

Valerio enlisted when he was a senior in high school living in Denver, Colorado. “I just wanted to get away.” The Navy seemed like the right ticket. He was underage and needed his parents’ signature to sign up. So he forged their name and got sworn in. The Navy asked if he wanted to live at home or in a hotel. He chose a hotel until he was sent to boot camp in San Diego. Upon arrival he was given lots of forms to sign and told to not bother reading them, just sign them. That was how his mother found out where he was. He had signed a form that allowed her to be contacted. She was happy when she found out where he was and knew he was safe.

 Word of mouth worked for Valerio when he was looking for work after retiring from the service. He was talking to a fella who was selling him cigarettes at Alameda Naval Station. He learned that they were looking for a manager in Fallon, Nevada.  They just happened to want a Ship Serviceman. He took the job and after a year and a quarter working 16-17 hours per day, he wanted a new job. That’s what brought him to China Lake. He accepted a position as manager of the Enlisted Men’s Club until it closed. 1964 found Valerio accepting a Civil Service job as a Purchasing Agent at China Lake. He started at G-6 and 22 years later he retired as a G-9. 

He kept in touch with some buddies from the service and went to several reunions. He remembers that on board the Salt Lake City before the war there would be boxing for entertainment. His buddy, Larry, was an Irishman and a fighter. “Very nice guy. He would go out and get drunk and the first thing he wanted to do was fight. The Shore Patrol used to bring him in for fighting. He was always going to see the Captain. When he retired, he went into boxing. “He said he had nine fights. He lost everyone,” He told Valerio, “I’m not gonna get beat up anymore.”

When asked if he has anything to say to recent veterans, he replies, “I don’t know anyone anymore. Only, I’m glad I made it back out of there.”