GREAT LAKES, Ill. -- World War II veteran and Battle of Midway survivor, Mr. Joe Sanes, Wilmette, Ill., became an honorary graduate of Recruit Training Command (RTC) here at Naval Station Great Lakes, more than 70 years after enlisting in the Navy, June 14.
Sanes enlisted in the Navy on Nov. 14, 1941, and attended boot camp at Great Lakes. However, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, four weeks into boot camp, Sanes was immediately assigned to the destroyer USS Hammann (DD 412). He never graduated.
During the Pass-In-Review (PIR) recruit graduation ceremony, Capt. John Dye, commanding officer of RTC, recognized Sanes' service, presented him with an honorary graduation certificate and designated him an honor graduate of the PIR.
"When we say the Sailor's Creed, when we say the words 'I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world,' we are talking about men like Mr. Joe Sanes," said Dye to the new Sailors their friends and family members.
During the ceremony, nine divisions comprised of 701 Sailors, or 702 including Sanes, graduated from RTC, the Navy's only boot camp. The ceremony was attended by more than 1,500 friends and family, including Libby Sanes, Joe's wife of 65 years.
"After 72 years, I am proud and happy to be a part of this graduation," said Joe. "The Sailors today are better looking than the Sailors of my time. I was impressed with what I saw today. I am sure the graduations back in 1941 wouldn't have been anywhere close to this."
Joe was aboard Hammann during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Hammann helped rescue more than 500 Sailors from the crippled USS Lexington (CV 2). On June 6, 1942 during the battle of Midway, Hammann was assisting USS Yorktown (CV 5) recovery after the carrier had been damaged during the battle. While participating in a defensive screen of Yorktown, Hammann was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine and sank in less than four minutes. Seventy-nine enlisted crew members died along with 10 of the 14 officers.
"My battle station was on the port side, I saw the torpedoes coming at the ship. I was in water up to my ankles by the time I got to the deck," said Joe. "Most of the casualties came when the Hammann exploded underwater after she sank. I was lucky. The survivors are not the heroes. The real heroes are the ones who never came back."
Joe also took part in the Solomon Islands Campaign, the Aleutian Islands Campaign, and the Mariana Islands Campaign, before receiving an honorable discharge on Nov. 14, 1947.
"The first thing the Navy taught me was discipline," said Joe. "It's very important in battle. Everyone has to be coordinated; everyone has to do their job. Without discipline there will be failure."
Sanes participates in speaking engagements throughout the country educating the public, ensuring the legacy of Naval heritage, and honoring his fallen shipmates.
RTC is overseen by Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), commanded by Rear Admiral Dee L. Mewbourne. RTC trains more than 35,000 volunteers annually, transforming civilians into basically trained Sailors.