For sailor Horace Flack, the war started before he was old enough to enlist. Flack wasn’t 18 years old yet when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. At that time, he was away from his hometown of Hendersonville, N.C., attending college at Virginia Tech – then commonly known as VPI. When they were old enough, he and some friends enlisted together. The young men all chose the Navy, but were each given different duties and destinations. For Flack, the war took him on training assignments along the East Coast and to the British Isles, where he initially served as a storekeeper striker and JA talker aboard the destroyer USS Harding. From his station in a sealed compartment under the ship’s waterline and surrounded by ordnance, Flack was one of millions involved in the war’s great shift. He and the Harding were an integral part of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. While Flack did not personally fire a single shot during that bloody campaign, he helped load some of the heaviest guns that fired upon the pillboxes and structures that kept American forces pinned down. After the invasion, Flack was assigned to a post on land at Plymouth, England. It was during that time that a few fortunate events came together to introduce him to his wife of more than 65 years, Margaret Flack. Margaret, who grew up in England until the bombing started, was one of the many British women serving in the Royal Signal Corps. Her family had been separated by the war, as her sister was stuck in Germany for the duration, married to a German citizen. From his station in a sealed compartment under the ship’s waterline and surrounded by ordnance, Flack was one of millions involved in the war’s great shift. He and the Harding were an integral part of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. While Flack did not personally fire a single shot during that bloody campaign, he helped load some of the heaviest guns that fired upon the pillboxes and structures that kept American forces pinned down. The couple’s paths converged on a train bound for Edinburgh, Scotland. As Horace puts it, “the throw of a dart and the spill of some gin” is all it took in the middle of a worldwide war for the two to find each other. Horace and Margaret Flack sat down with Defense Media Network writer Eric Seeger to tell their story.
Eric Seeger: When did you enlist?
Horace Flack: In 1943, I was 18. We went to Camp Croft, S.C., and they had representatives there from all branches. So we had our choice of what service you wanted to go into. I chose the Navy, and they put us on a car at the rear of the train, and locked it. We were stuck. Next thing we knew, we were in Maryland. Some of the men where raising hell. The Marines were giving a two-week delay before reporting for orders — and the other services one week. You’d be amazed how many guys chose the Marines just for that extra week. I was surprised by that.
Why did you choose to join the Navy?
I came to the decision with some friends. Bert, Louis, Pacey and myself. When the war came along, we all tried to figure out what service to go into. We decided that if we went in the Navy, as long as we were alive at least we’d be comfortable and not scratching around in the mud. That led us into the Navy. Two of us, Pacey and Bert, went to the Pacific — Louis and I, the Atlantic.
While at the Brunswick Naval Air Station, Royal Navy pilots were being trained to fly our Corsair fighters and Grumman dive bombers. It was amazing how many of those people were killed [training] for the Royal Navy at that time.
Pacey was on a destroyer and he was a pharmacist’s mate. He came back home white-headed. I’m telling you, all that Pacific mess…. Bert was a little bit luckier in that respect, he was an electrician’s mate. Louis got into the “Ninety-Day Wonder Program” – to become an ensign in 90 days. He attended Columbia University in New York. In the meantime, Bainbridge Naval Station in Maryland was being constructed. I went into service school there and Bert was there also. I came out a storekeeper striker, and this is what I was while aboard the USS Harding. A storekeeper striker is before you get third-class rating. Third-class would have been the equivalent to sergeant. I used to go to meet Louis in New York and we’d have a good time. My grandmother and grandfather lived in Washington, D.C. Grandfather was an engineer, and he worked in the Washington Naval Yard. I got to know Washington pretty well at the time. I was sent to a Naval Air Station in Maine – Brunswick — and I was stationed there until I boarded the Harding. While at the Brunswick Naval Air Station, Royal Navy pilots were being trained to fly our Corsair fighters and Grumman dive bombers. It was amazing how many of those people were killed [training] for the Royal Navy at that time. The weather in Maine is pretty severe. I went there and soon learned what winter was in Maine. We have snow here [in North Carolina], but most snows here are wet, but it would pile up on the ground there.
Where did you join up with the USS Harding?
I went aboard the USS Harding at Brooklyn, N.Y., after my service at Brunswick. Prior to that, I was sent to Pier 92, where I had my head shaved. Shoosh! And the hair was gone. I went onboard the Harding. It had just come back from North Africa, from performing convoy duty. Anchorage was at Brooklyn Navy Yard right next to where the USS Missouri was launched. I was there, and saw the Missouri launched. That was quite an experience.
What was it like the first time you went out to sea?
Of course, all of us where green as gourds when we got on the Harding. I did not know fore from aft or hardly any naval terms. The first time going out of New York Harbor, we were heading towards Maine. Off the mouth of the Hudson River, the land swells were so bad there. I got so sick. I’m telling you the truth, so sick that I didn’t care if I lived or died. It hit me hard. But you know, I got over that. It was several days before I felt like I was normal. I didn’t eat much. And the strange thing is – I had never eaten oysters in my life – and when I could finally eat again they had oyster stew, and boy I tucked into that – and I have liked it ever since! Well, we had a good cook on there – old Dominic – he died just recently. He was an Italian boy, and he sure knew what he was doing with his cooking.