Rindge veteran kept World War II machines running

  • Joe Manning, a World War II veteran, sits below a picture of his Navy unit at his home in Rindge. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Joe Manning of Rindge in his Navy uniform. Courtesy photo—

  • World War II veteran Joe Manning stands at attention during the Memorial Day observance in Jaffrey last May. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Saturday, November 10, 2018 1:19PM

Every veteran has a different story when it comes to their experience in the service.

For Joe Manning of Rindge, he never saw the front lines during World War II as a member of the nation’s Navy, but he served his country proudly.

“At a time of war, everybody wanted in,” Manning said.

So during his senior year of high school, Manning attempted to enlist. He was told to come back after graduation. And sure enough, in June of 1944, Manning enlisted in the Navy – just weeks after D-Day. Manning was sent to Sampson Naval Training Base in New York and spent more time there for training than usual for that era.

“The fleets were tied up at both ends of the world,” Manning said.

So for a little less than two months, Manning went through his basic training before getting word that he would be sent to California to continue his service. That is where he was assigned to the Naval Construction Battalion, better known as the SeaBees, which was created to replace the large amount of civilians working on military operations. The SeaBees would consist of military personnel who were trained in both a specific skill and combat.

Manning had received a good education and showed strong math skills. It was a well sought after unit to get into.

“I tested as having mechanical skills too,” he said.

There was more training in combat where he got his “tin hat and a rifle,” and was part of a team that learned how to use an M2, a weapon used to fire a 60 millimeter mortar.

“Thank God I never had to use it, but you were apt to be in some pretty heavy fighting,” Manning said. “Like most guys in my era, I had a rifle in my hand, but never shot it.”

By Christmas time in 1944, Manning was on a boat making its way to the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. It took 60 days to get there, which included a stop at Pearl Harbor.

“The war had been going on for some three years at this point,” Manning said. “We were going to reclaim the Pacific.”

On the island, there was all sorts of heavy machinery – bulldozers, trucks and cranes – that were wrecked. Manning’s job was to help build new ones out of parts from the broken down ones. He specialized on the rear of the equipment, most specifically the brakes.

“We built a factory in the jungle and went to work,” he said.

The unit was just starting to make progress, “and the war ended,” Manning said. Then everyone wanted to go home at once.

But as a single young man with no children, Manning was put at the end of the list to make it back to the states. The war ended in September of 1945, but Manning didn’t make it back home till May of 1946. He was shuffled around to North China and Chamorro, a small island in the Northern Mariana Islands, while his unit was split up.

“I wasn’t anything unique,” Manning said. “Everybody was in it.”

Now each year for the Jaffrey Veterans Day parade, Manning gets into his uniform (it still fits) and marches proudly. At 92 years old, he said he was the only one from World War II in the parade last year.

And this Sunday he’ll be out there, celebrating his service with all the other veterans.