The Foothills Focus, in partnership with the Anthem Veterans Memorial, will honor a local veteran each month. The series opens with local resident and World War II Navy veteran, John Ravita.
John Ravita was born in Pittsburgh in 1925. He spent his youth working at his family’s small grocery store, attending school and running track. He enjoyed a humble life. He never dreamed of entering the service; he never dreamed further than the following week. He was a very typical high school student. Until, that is, Dec. 7, 1941.
“I will never forget that day,” Ravita said. “I was 15 and most of us didn’t even know where Pearl Harbor was.”
What started as a typical December day, was interrupted with radio broadcasts, President Roosevelt’s address, a declaration of war and newspaper articles that captured the bombings and devastation of Pearl Harbor. Ravita’s thinking shifted from that of a high school student to war and what may lie ahead of him in the years to come.
By March 1943, most of his friends and relatives were enlisted or drafted.
“My father fought in the Army infantry in France during World War I,” Ravita said. “My older brother tried to serve in this war but was denied as he had a heart murmur. My younger brother was a professional dancer with the Army Special Services and entertained the troops in Germany. I woke up one morning in early March and realized it was my turn. I was seventeen when I enlisted in the United States Navy.”
According to the U.S. Naval records, Ravita was among 58,843 men and 3,401 women who enlisted into the U.S. Navy in March 1943. During WWII, 3,546,179 persons entered Naval Service.
Ravita told his new girlfriend, Esther, of his decision to go to war. At his side today, she smiled as she described their meeting at a family picnic.
“We met and I instantly fell in love with the cute boy in the letter jacket,” she said. “I knew when he told me of his decision to enter the war, I would wait for him to return. And so, I did.”
Ravita’s boot camp and basic training was in Sampson, New York. Six weeks after training, he was transferred to Staten Island to await his orders to transfer to SETC, subchaser training center in Miami. It was there he was assigned to the ordnance school for gunnery training.
“A test I took showed I had mechanical aptitude, so I was assigned as a gunnery mechanic,” he said.
Ten weeks later, Ravita was assigned to the naval base in Norfolk for additional training. Shortly thereafter, still unaware of what lay ahead, he was assigned to the USS Weaver, still under construction, docked in San Pedro, California. He traveled from Norfolk for 12 days in the overcrowded cattle cars of a train.
“You know,” he said with inquisitive eyes, “14 of us started together, 12 arrived. I guess a couple decided that was enough for them.”
After the last of the crew arrived and the ship build complete, the Weaver was officially commissioned the USS Weaver, DE 741, on Dec. 31, 1943. The crew began shake down, ensuring the ship was seaworthy and battle ready.
“We cruised up and down the California coast practicing gunnery, dropping anchor and working on our assigned duties,” he said.
After six weeks, the Weaver was ordered to the South Pacific.
“We stopped for a couple days at Pearl Harbor and waited for further orders,” Ravita said.
“We figured we would be going back and forth on what they called the ‘Pineapple Run,’ from Hawaii to California, escorting ships. That didn’t happen. The Weaver was ordered to the South Pacific battle zone where we stayed until we came home 29 months later.”
In the South Pacific, the Weaver and its new crew served as the support for the third and fifth fleet logistics group and fast-moving carriers.
“First, we were based at Majuro and escorted oilers to refueling rendezvous and protected the Navy carriers and submarines from attacks,” Ravita said.
“We were with the fast carriers during the raids on Truk, Satawan and Ponape. But it didn’t end there.”
The Weaver then protected the logistics groups during the assault on Saipan, after which, the sailors continued to protect the carriers in action during the invasion of the Western Carolines and Palaus.
From there, the Weaver moved to Seeadler Harbor at Manus in the Admiralty Islands, north of New Guinea. The Weaver served out the war at Ulithi in the Western Carolines, where the Weaver and its crew escorted oilers to Ulithi. There, the oilers filled their storage tanks and went back to sea to refill the carrier’s oil bunkers.
“My job was to take care of all the guns — the big ones,” Ravita said.
“They took a lot of lubricating in that salt air. I took them apart, cleaned and lubricated them and put them back together so the guys could use them when the ships came under attack. My hands were always covered in grease. I got a horrible ear infection from the oil getting on my face and in my ear. I had to be operated on by the ship’s pharmacist while at sea. Fortunately, he had been to medical school and was a surgeon before he got to the Weaver. Between that infection and being so close to the guns firing for all those months, I have lost my hearing. I was one of the lucky ones.
“We helped the fellows keep the pressure on the Japanese during the Iwo Jima assault and Okinawa campaign. Toward the end of the war, the kamikaze attacks on our fleet at Okinawa were relentless. I was on the destroyer escort and could see the explosions on the horizon about five miles away. The smaller ships couldn’t withstand the kamikaze attacks. We lost a dozen.
“There were so many experiences at sea I’d like to forget, but never will. One of the biggest scares of my life was when the Japanese started releasing floating mines all over the Pacific. Sonar or radar didn’t always pick them up. One day a mine got within 10 feet of our ship. Some of the deck hands picked up long poles, which were kept in the whale boats, and tried to keep the mine from hitting us. We were stopped dead in the water, and I was sure that was it for us all. Fortunately, large swells floated the mine away and we were able to blow it up with gun fire. We were so close, some of my shipmates were hit with shrapnel.
“It wasn’t just the fighting that kept us on our toes. We lived through horrifying typhoons, too many to count. The swells were enormous and came at us with incredible force. The only way we didn’t capsize was to head into the swells. During one typhoon, we battled 72 hours to stay upright. I know one World War I converted destroyer that carried heavy guns capsized from those swells. It was as if we were fighting two wars — one against our enemy and one against the sea.”
When the war ended, the Weaver and its crew were sent to assist in the evacuation of former Allied prisoners of war from Japan.
“Those men were emaciated. I will never forget their faces,” Ravita said. “They didn’t know the war was over and they didn’t think they were going home. But we got them to hospital ships. I hope they all made it home.”
After her final duty, the Weaver set sail for home, passing through Pearl Harbor, San Pedro, the Panama Canal and back to Philadelphia.
“When we got to California, I left the ship in my dress whites and called Esther. I didn’t know when I was going to get home, but I knew she would be there for me when I did.”
They were married a year later. “She’s my best friend,” Ravita said as Esther smiled and touched his hand. “I would not change my experience in the Navy for anything.”
“I went into the experience as a teenager who just wanted to serve his country. I served with guys who were just like me, young and naïve. We thought we were fearless, but we weren’t, and we didn’t understand what we were about to face. You know, we became brothers in the Pacific through our shared fear and common cause. We just wanted to serve our country.”
The couple live in Anthem and enjoy the company of their friends and visits from their family members. They are grateful for each other and the lives they have lived. All those in Anthem who have the honor of knowing them are grateful for the joy, laughter and love they bring.