Prairie Lives: When Ornie Alness went to war | News, Sports, Jobs
Last week we met Ornie Alness, who was born on the family farm in rural Clarkfield and grew up during the 1920s and ’30s. Ornie continued farming after the Pearl Harbor attack, but, realizing he would eventually be called to serve, enlisted in the Navy in 1942. He went through accelerated Basic Training in San Diego and was assigned to the Navy transport, USS Wharton.
Ornie’s ship was a former passenger liner, 535 feet long with over 500 officers and crew. The Wharton was built in 1921 for the military, but was leased to a steamship line that used her for the passenger and cargo trade to South America. In 1940 she was converted in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a naval transport. She transited the Panama Canal and joined the Pacific Fleet, ferrying military personnel, their families, and supplies between West Coast ports and Hawaii.
The Wharton was in dry-dock in San Pedro, Calif., when Ornie joined the crew. He described her overhaul activities.
“People were working all over. They were replacing plates on the hull. It was 3/4 inch steel plate and they were heating rivets red-hot, tossing rivets up to the riveters and they were catching them and sticking them in the holes and ‘boom-boom-boom.’ They were also mounting some guns,” he said.
Civilian shipyard workers were performing these tasks, but Ornie explained that the Wharton’s deck force had its own work while in dry-dock.
“We were doing some painting and scrubbing. The main promenade deck had a plank floor and you had to holy stone that ....