The Suburbanite
  • WW II Then and Now: Meteorologist from Massillon

  • "We were stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean all by ourselves," recalls Ron Armitage, " ... a sitting duck for a Jap submarine.”

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  • World War II didn’t start well for Ron Armitage
    Limping and left behind by its convoy amid the Marshall Islands, the malfunctioning troop ship that carried him with about 2,300 other troops was unprotected in the Pacific.
    “The next day the sanitation, electrical and the refrigeration systems went out. We were rationed to half a canteen cup of water and maybe one half a sandwich or an orange a day,” recalled Armitage. “Then we noticed that the ship had a list ... not bad at first, but every day it got worse. We were stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean all by ourselves ... a sitting duck for a Jap submarine.”
    The ship could not break radio silence, so the U.S.S. Robin Doncaster — a converted freighter — sat in the hot sun for three weeks, until two destroyer escorts came looking for it.
    “There must have been a submarine in the area as they raced around our ship and laid a thick smoke screen, then started dropping depth charges.”
    Armitage’s ship was towed to Pearl Harbor, its rail leaning over to only about six feet from the water, and Armitage had about five weeks to rethink his decision to join in the fighting.
    “I enlisted in the Army Air Corps and reported for duty Oct. 4, 1942,” said Armitage. “A bus at the old bus station in Massillon took us to Cleveland for processing. I was then sent to Bowman Field, Louisville, Ky., for basic training. This was an air commando training base for airborne and glider training.
    “I was going to be a glider pilot.”
    But, once he was sent to Del Valley Army Base, which included runways and a control tower near Austin, Texas, Armitage had his eyes on the sky for other reasons.
    “My free time was spent at the weather station. One day the master sergeant there suggested that I apply for meteorology training. I applied and was accepted.
    Assigned to the 20th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron attached to the 345th Bomb Group, suddenly, his duties changed from piloting a glider for airborne missions to flying into troubled airspace to determine if those missions should even take place.
    “Since there were no weather reporting stations in the Pacific, if you wanted to know what the weather was like, you had to fly out and see for yourself,” he said.
    The meteorologist’s spotting duties extended beyond storms.
    “Sometimes the Pacific Ocean would be just as clear and blue as it would be in a swimming pool and you could see submarines down there. But we did not know if it was a Jap sub or one of ours. We would always spot the location and send a report to the Navy, and let them take care of it.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Armitage said he was on Okinawa when a big typhoon hit.
    “I flew on reconnaissance missions to penetrate it three times,” he remembered. “The first time we got deeper in the storm than we realized. The rain was just like a fire hose on the windshield. I was afraid the engines would drown out, the water was so intense, but fortunately we made it back.”
    When that typhoon hit the mainland on Okinawa, it blew his unit’s tents over a cliff, he said.
    “Nothing was standing. Everyone was on their own to find shelter. Most of us found shelter in Japanese caves. The cave I was in (with others) was actually a Japanese burial vault. There were shelves lined with jars of ancestral remains.”
    When the war ended, Armitage went to Kent State University on the GI Bill. He majored in business technology and minored in Aerospace Technology. He also earned commercial pilot, flight instructor multi-engine and instrument ratings in flight school and was an FAA flight safety consular for 30 years.
    “I worked for Republic Steel Corporation, Union Drawn Division, for 17 years, and in 1968 joined Stark State Institute of Technology. After several other name changes, it finally evolved into Stark State College of Technology.”
    Enrollment was 94 students when Armitage started. He was vice president for student services when he retired almost 17 years later.
    In retirement, Armitage volunteers as a tour guide at MAPS Air Museum.

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