By Heather Lusk
Flipping through the USS Wisconsin Navy Cruise Book — an unofficial publication by a ship’s crew to document a deployment — Jim Cluck paused to show a picture of a face peering through a gaping hole.
“That’s a hole that we got blown into us in Korea,” he said. “It didn’t kill anybody. They got one shot off and then our gunners blew the hillside away.”
Cluck, 84, had left Zionsville at the age of 17 to join the navy after convincing his father to sign the papers allowing him to enlist. Cluck said he hadn’t kept a job and wasn’t very stable at the time.
“He said, ‘You can’t quit this,’” Cluck said. “‘If you can’t finish it up, don’t come back here because you don’t have a home.’”
“The only way I could come back was honorable discharge in hand,” he added.
Aboard the USS Missouri in 1949, Cluck met three men from different areas of the United States who would become fast friends. Now — more than 65 years later — those friends continue to meet, gathering a few times per year with their wives to catch up and reminisce.
“It’s just a fun group,” said Toni, Cluck’s wife of 43 years.
In early September, the group will join other veterans who served aboard the ship in Charleston, S.C., to honor the USS Missouri at the 70th anniversary of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the written agreement that formalized the surrender of Japan during World War II. The agreement was signed on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, and was the beginning of the end of the war.
This is the 42nd annual reunion for the USS Missouri Association, which gathers veterans who served aboard the ship.
“It’s fun to go,” Toni said. “They all have one thing in common, if nothing else.”
Jim estimates that there are roughly 200 to 300 veterans at the annual reunion.
“My group’s getting smaller all the time, but when we first started going there was probably 16 or 17 of us that had worked together,” he said.
Cluck recalls that the plaque commemorating the spot where the signing took place was on the ship’s deck when he and his three close friends were aboard.
All four men had different assignments: Jim Behling was a storekeeper, Marshall Anderson was a repairman and Tom Mulvey was part of the deck crew.
Cluck, who spent his enlistment “below the waterline” as a boiler man, knew he would be a quick casualty if anything should happen to the ship. But “an 18- or 19-year-old kid doesn’t get too scared of anything.”
The men were aboard the USS Missouri when it ran aground in Chesapeake Bay, a photo of which is in another Navy Cruise book.
“It wasn’t a sudden stop, but it kind of quivered and shook and they quit taking steam,” Cluck said. “The ship takes 37 feet of water to float and we were sitting in 24.”
The boat was stuck for 17 days and required about two dozen other ships to push and pull it back to deeper water. All of the stores — including gunpowder, ammunition, weapons and food — were offloaded to lighten the ship.
“We tore it up pretty good,” Cluck said.
Once Cluck left the USS Missouri, he was assigned to the USS Wisconsin in 1951.
“It was like jumping out of one glass and into another,” he said. “Same ship.”
It was the middle of the Korean War. The Wisconsin had been decommissioned after WWII and Cluck helped put it back into commission.
At that point, his friends had gone different directions and Cluck found himself being the “pappy” of the group, helping to train the reserves and novices.
When he left the navy a year later, he returned to Zionsville.
“I came back here,” he said. “I still had a home.”
Looking back on his time in the navy, “I enjoy it more every day,” he said. “I’d probably go in again if I could get past the physical.”
ABOUT JIM CLUCK
Favorite local restaurant: Longhorn Steakhouse at Traders Point
Family: We have four living children and a son deceased, plus 12 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Spouse of 34 years is Toni Cluck.
Favorite movies: The Sound of Music and African Queen
Favorite pastime: We used to do a lot of fishing, now I read a lot
Favorite book: Reminiscences, autobiography by General Douglas MacArthur, At Ease, also, a autobiography, by President Dwight Eisenhower
Favorite Vacation Spot: Patoka Lake in southern Indiana, catching bass
When he moved to Zionsville: 1941, when the population sign read 1,027 people