COLUMBIA — World War II veteran Dabney Doty, 91, said he can still pick up a 17-foot canoe and carry it.
“I’m small but stout,” he said.
Doty returned with 87 other veterans from the 10th Honor Flight early Wednesday morning. He described his trip to Washington, D.C., as “wonderful” and “unbelievable.” The best part, he said, was seeing all of the memorials he had heard about but never seen before.
“I still can't believe it happened,” Doty said. “I've never dreamed (that) anything like this would ever happen.”
Doty boarded the flight for Washington, D.C., early Tuesday morning to visit the memorials. He said he was excited and grateful for the opportunity.
“I think this Honor Flight is a very great program sponsored and volunteered by a lot of very fine people who want to do something for the old veterans before they all die,” Doty said before he left.
Doty joined the Navy in January 1944 and served in World War II. After finishing four months of training, he joined the crew of the USS Ringness, a newly commissioned ship, and worked as an assistant gunnery officer and first division officer.
A little more than a year into his tour of duty, he said, his ship rescued survivors from the USS Indianapolis, which sank in 12 minutes after being hit by Japanese torpedoes. The ship was attacked after it delivered atomic bomb material and parts to the island of Tinian near Guam.
About 1,200 people were aboard the ship, but only about 300 survived. Many who survived the combat and the sinking of the ship fell victim to shark attacks, starvation and dehydration as they drifted in the ocean. Those rescued by the Ringness had been stranded in the sea for five days.
“The Indianapolis was a heavy cruiser, which was the largest single naval loss of the war in terms of manpower,” Doty said.
Before joining the Navy, Doty was a teacher. He became director of war production training in Greensboro, N.C., where 25 instructors worked 24-hours-a-day training people to build airplanes and ships.
“I wanted to be doing something more patriotic than teaching school,” Doty said.
Doty said the Battle of Okinawa near Japan was the Ringness' first. Its charge was to escort a convoy to the island in a false landing on the morning of April 1 while the main attack took a place on the opposite side of the island.
“The Navy ship shelled the island, including Naha, the main city, until there was nothing left but rubble — just everything destroyed,” Doty said.
Although the U.S. won the battle, Doty said more than 130 American ships were damaged or destroyed by Japanese suicide planes. His ship also was targeted once, but the suicide pilot missed it and crashed into water near the ship's stern, Doty recalled.
“The Japanese were very fierce fighters,” he said. “In every island the U.S. had to take from them, they fought desperately.”
Doty stayed with his ship until it returned to the U.S. after Japan’s surrender and was discharged from the Navy as lieutenant junior grade in April 1946. He then devoted his life to teaching.
“I had no interest in being a naval officer as a career,” he said. “I just wanted to do my part to win World War II.”
After teaching industrial education at Eastern Kentucky University, Doty came to MU in 1947 and taught engineering drafting. The next year, he taught at the department of practical arts and vocational and technical education in MU's College of Education until he retired in 1986.
He enjoys reading scientific and technical material, and he said he still loves canoeing and fishing. In fact, he said he probably was the most able-bodied veteran on the flight.
“Everybody wanted to help me up and down the stairs and do everything,” Doty said, describing how energetic he was on the trip. “I told them I can ride my Rollerblades. Let me alone.”
For a profile of another Honor Flight veteran, click here.