Joe Blair, H.G. Johnny Eastwood

Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.

Joe Blair
Date of birth: Oct. 15, 1925
Dates of service: 1942 to 1946
Hometown: Portales
Lives in: Portales
Theater and locations of service: Aleutian Islands, South Pacific
Branch and rank: Navy, gunner’s mate 2nd class, temporary 1st class
Unit and specialty: USS Farragut DD 348, machine-gunner

In his words: On a destroyer bearing 270 sailors, Blair spent 30 months traveling the seas from the Aleutian Islands to Iwo Jima at the time of its invasion.

Even though they spent hours upon hours together aboard the ship, the crew didn’t get restless, Blair recalls. “The longest we went without goin’ to shore was 11 months. We were always busy. Everybody had a job to do and they did it.

“On a ship like that you knew everybody, you knew where they were from, if they were married or single and how many kids they had. You’d think you’d run out of things to talk about but we didn’t. There was always a different story told, always something somebody had to tell and always something new to talk about.”

When the ship would take on supplies, “everybody always stole something,” he said, such as the man on his watch who stole a case of canned horse meat from Australia.

He said they would go down to the galley, beg for a loaf of bread from the cooks, grab some hot coffee and have horse meat sandwiches. “It was 24 cans to a case. We made it last over a month. We’d break out that case every mid-watch. Boy we was livin’ high on the hog.”

As a 30-millimeter machine-gunner, Blair received 13 Battle Stars and a presidential citation for the invasion of the Philippines.

“I guess, in my opinion, if there was ever a good war, that was it. Some people it bothers and some it doesn’t — it never did bother me. It’s just something you had to do, you was supposed to do, and you didn’t think a thing about it — you just did it.”

H.G. Johnny Eastwood
Date of birth: Sept. 5, 1921
Dates of service: 1942 to 1945
Hometown: Tolar
Lives in: Clovis
Theater and location of service: South Pacific
Branch: Navy
Rank: Petty officer, quartermaster 2nd Class
Unit and specialty: PT Boat 247, Squadron 20. Navigation, gunner.
After discharge: Tolar
Veteran organizations: VFW life-member, Post No.125. American Legion, Post No. 25.

In his words: “The nation has an unwritten contract with its defenders, for the companionship of two and a half years of death and misery is a spouse that tolerates no divorce. Such companionship finally becomes part of one’s soul and it cannot be obliterated.” This small note scribbled on a piece of paper by Eastwood in 1944, is still kept among his memorabilia from the war. They are the words of a man trying to make sense of his experiences.

The PT boats were the fastest on the sea. He served on the 13-member crew as portside (left) gunner, operating one of two .50 caliber guns mounted at the front of the boat. They had been traveling a patterned course for more than a year, intercepting enemy barges as they unloaded Japanese submarines.

“I knew it was within reason we would take a hit,” he said.
It was late the night of May 5, 1944, when they were hit. The three-inch shell pierced the starboard side of their 78-foot, mahogany PT boat.

“Those that weren’t blown off abandoned ship” he said. In the chaos that ensued, Eastwood came upon his injured lieutenant. Removing his vest, he placed it on his commander and stayed with him, sharing the life vest through the night as they waited for help.

Eastwood remembers five enemy barges surrounding the wreckage, trying to pick off the survivors in the water. “You could see the tracers coming so you tried to get under the water,” he said.

The men stayed aware of each other in the darkness, but kept silent. Only the sounds of enemy rounds and the burning of their boat could be heard.

“We couldn’t see anything but our boat… it looked like a Viking ship,” he said.

In the morning, rescuers pulled from the water six men. The lieutenant who shared Eastwood’s vest through the night didn’t make it.

World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail: