John Derr Speaks to Navy Vets
John Derr, of Pinehurst, the retired director of CBS sports, was the guest speaker recently at the annual reunion for crew members of the USS West Point, the largest U.S. World War II troop transport.
Speaking at the Angus Barn Restaurant in Raleigh, the 92-year-old Derr, one of North Carolina's finest raconteurs, received accolades from the gathering of octogenarian and nonagenarian veterans as he delivered countless anecdotes of his voyage aboard the West Point in June 1943 from New York to India by way of Rio de Janeiro and Capetown.
Derr, then a 25-year-old Army Air Corps private first class from North Carolina, also spoke of his two years' duty in the CBI (China, Burma, India Theater), which included sipping tea with Mahatma Gandhi a half dozen times.
The SS America, the nation's largest and fastest luxury liner at the time, was converted in the summer of 1941 to the troop ship AP 23 USS West Point, which had a standing crew of 785 officers and men and capacity for about 9,000 troops. More than 2,000 men served aboard the ship during its 4 years of World War II service. Of those, only 14 living crew members attended this annual reunion in Raleigh, along with spouses and other members of their families.
Gordon White, a retired New York Times sports reporter who writes a sports column in The Pilot, served as a Navy quartermaster aboard the West Point and attended the reunion. The oldest crew member to attend the reunion was 96-year-old Ray Lavin, of Boston, former chief yeoman to the ship's captain.
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