World War II aviator relives days aboard the Yorktown

July 28, 2011 

Harold Lohman, a Navy veteran who served in World War II, fulfilled one of his last wishes as he traveled from Baltimore to visit the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant. Lohman, who has cancer, served on the original USS Yorktown, which was sunk at the Battle of Midway, and flew as a gunner on a bomber.

GRAHAM BEAHM/THE (CHARLESTON) POST & COURIER

  • The USS Yorktown was the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the United States Navy.

  • It was commissioned on April 15, 1943. The carrier was built in 16 1/2 months in Newport News, Va.

  • The Yorktown participated significantly in the Pacific Offensive that began in late 1943 and ended with the defeat of Japan in 1945. Yorktown received the Presidential Unit Citation and earned 11 battle stars for service in World War II.

  • In 1958, Yorktown was designated an anti-submarine aircraft carrier, and would later earn 5 battle stars for service off Vietnam. The ship also recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule in 1968.

  • The Yorktown was decommissioned in 1970 and placed in reserve.

  • Much of the Academy Award-winning (1944) documentary "The Fighting Lady" was filmed aboard the Yorktown.

  • In 1975, the Yorktown was towed from Bayonne, N.J., to Charleston to become the centerpiece of Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.

  • Source: Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

World War II aviator Harold Lohman, who is now mostly blind, ventured onto the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, took a breath of air and let his senses take him back in time.

"It smells the same," Lohman said, sifting through the decades of odors still trapped inside the museum ship. "The oil and the wood."

It is likely the last time he will ever make such a connection.

Lohman, 88, who was present during some of the earliest battles of America's Pacific war, has Stage 4 cancer. The Baltimore resident is nearing the end of his life and his last wish was to touch an aircraft carrier for one final goodbye.

During World War II, Lohman was a crewman on carrier-based torpedo bombers. He served on the carriers Enterprise, the original Yorktown (the one at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant is its successor) and the Saratoga. The war took him to faraway places, including the Eastern Solomons and the Coral Sea.

During his nearly four years in the Navy, he was awarded three Purple Hearts and went into the sea three times. One of those splashes came when the Yorktown took a devastating Japanese aerial assault during the June 1942 Battle of Midway, forcing Lohman and the rest of the crew over the side.

"It's hard to think about it, of what happened," Lohman said of his wartime memories.

Family members know of his service but not all the details. Lohman has rarely spoken of what he saw during the war, beyond telling his children of friends and crews who did not return.

"I think it's too traumatic," his son, Bill Lohman, said. "I think he lost a lot of people. I think he was around a lot of death."

One story he does tell is of the Yorktown's sacrifice. In all, 145 U.S. planes were shot down or destroyed in the Midway battle, many from the Yorktown.

At 88, the elder Lohman has slowed down a great deal. He can stand but gets around mostly in a wheelchair. Yet his ailments didn't stop him from sitting on the wing of a Dauntless dive bomber, rolling his fingers over the flaps while feeling the skin of the plane once again.

"I haven't been on a 'wing and a prayer' in a long time," he said.

Moments later he is wheeled over to the museum's TBF Avenger, a plane like the one he served on as a bombardier and machine gunner. His job included being stationed in the belly of the plane while directing a .30-caliber machine gun out the back.

Sitting next to the plane, Lohman rubbed his hand over the window he would have used to peek outside. "It feels good, I can tell you," he said of the reconnection.

Today, his son said his father's cancer has run throughout a good portion of his body and that he doesn't have much time left. The visit was part of a gift made possible by Seasons Hospice in Maryland through their foundation-supported "final wishes" program.

Related content:

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

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