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Chance meetings of a lifetime
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Over the years we have all had a chance meeting or two. I, too, had a couple that I have had over the expanse of my 81 years.

In January 1945, as a member of a crew of a merchant ship during World War II, I went to a movie theater in a small town on Maui. Seated in the early evening waiting for the movie to start I noticed a uniformed sailor enter in his white naval uniform. Jim Filkins was a fellow who I attended to grammar and high school with in Ceres. I was unaware that he was in the Navy or even close to where I was in the Hawaiian islands. As he had some people with him ,we chatted for a time and made arrangements for us to meet on my ship, the SS Cape Stephens, at dock in this small port the next day. He came out to my ship the next morning and we had coffee and quite a talk about our school days and our times at sea during that time. He was attached to the nearby U.S. Navy Air Base. I would be 19 years old in a few days and he was probably already 19, just a couple of kids involved in a war in the Pacific.

Jim contacted me by e-mail recently and we met again, this time at a luncheon for classmates of the 1940s era that meets six times a year near our old high school in Ceres. Some 57 years had passed since I had seen him and we both appeared older that during our seagoing days or our times attending Ceres Schools. I gave a little talk to the group and described what you have read above and our chance meeting. I introduced him as a long lost member of our group which is dwindling away each year. He had been a police officer in Sonora and had driven truck in Nevada for 50 years. It was a nice thing to see him and all our friends after all those many years!

At Camp Maui, my shipmates and I loaded cargo and young Marines from training. Then we hauled marines who trained for combat at the Parker Ranch near Hilo, Hawaii. This was for the invasion of Iwo Jima, little island near Japan. Because of this event this second chance meeting ties in with the first.

Iwo Jima was where one of the worst battles in Marine Corp history took place. It took over a month of desperate fighting and a great loss to capture this strategic island. We would offload war materials and steel webbing to build a necessary airfield to provide an emergency landing strip for damaged B29s returning from bombing runs over Japanese industries. I watched the marines go over the side to be a part of the battle force already there.

Our stay there was about three weeks and it was very eventful time with Japanese planes arriving daily. Our ship was slightly damaged and after unloading we limped back to Saipan at three knots for repairs and then back to San Francisco.

In 1984 certain veterans groups decided that it would be proper to arrange a reunion after 40 years. I returned to Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1985 to dedicate a memorial to the dead of both the U.S. and Japan. About 250 Marine Corp Navy, Coast Guardsmen went on this trip. I was the only merchant seaman, but was welcomed by this group for I was there during the battle. Upon arrival in Tokyo we stayed in a fine hotel for a couple of days and ate in the dining room on the top floor each morning. Before going out to the island by Air Force we had some meetings with the Japanese defenders and their widows in this hotel.

A tobacco grower and a U.S. Marine Corp survivor of Iwo Jima from North Carolina and I bummed around a lot and ate breakfast together each morning in the hotel dining room. We talked to an American seated at the next table who was not in our group. He was in Tokyo on business and had served as an officer in the Army occupation of Japan after the war and was an aide to General Douglas MacArthur at his headquarters in Tokyo. We had a few conversations and he said that he was from Pennsylvania and was interested in our trip returning to Iwo Jima after 40 years.

About six months later in San Francisco Polly and I were walking around the streets of this city and wondered into the exclusive St. Francis Hotel because I wanted to use their restroom facilities. I thought, "what the heck, I might as well use the best." Walking across the large lobby I saw this same fellow with a group of people obviously going to a wedding. I approached him and we spoke for a short time and he recalled seeing me in Tokyo.

He explained that he was in San Francisco from Pennsylvania for the wedding of his son to take place in the St. Francis Hotel that afternoon.

Truth can be stranger than fiction!

Bill Noble may be reached via email at