Veteran Spotlight: Gene Brewer

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Seaman First Class Eugene (Gene) Brewer was asleep in his bunk on the USS Dale when the bombs beganOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA to rain down. “I saw people grabbing ammunition and going topside with it,” he says about the fateful morning of December 7, 1941. “I went topside and saw the air full of Japanese planes.”

The son of a Kentucky coal miner, Brewer had “hopped” a train in 1940 to get to a recruiting station—only to discover he needed to gain one more pound to meet the Navy’s weight requirement. Once in, the Navy sent him first to San Diego, and from there to Hawaii and the Farragut-class destroyer, the USS Dale. He’d been at Pearl Harbor one and a half years when Japan’s surprise attack brought the United States into World War II.

Brewer, who moved from Chesapeake to Virginia Beach ten years ago, fought the entire battle of Pearl Harbor in his “skivvies” because there was no time to dress. “You didn’t have time to look around much. You just grabbed whatever was handy.”

On the night of December 7, the Dale had only one boiler in use to provide power to the ship. The crew fired up the other boilers and had her underway in 30 minutes. Because the commanding officer was ashore, an ensign and 30-year chief took the ship out.

But the Japanese hoped to sink a ship in the harbor entrance, thereby corralling the entire fleet in the harbor, and the ship came under heavy fire as she left. “We had three airplanes come right down at us, and all of them missed us.”

Vet Spotlight - Eugene Brewer dress uniform

Chief Brewer, Yokosuka, Japan in 1952

Once away, she joined other ships in a task force, but a “wiped” bearing forced her returned to Pearl Harbor on December 8. Over 70 years later, Brewer even now vividly remembers the “real depressing” view of the still burning hulls of the damaged and destroyed ships.

Brewer served on the Dale for the entire war. Out of 22 battles in the Pacific, she participated in 18—and never lost a man. Brewer says he and his fellow sailors tried not to dwell on the battles. “We fought like tigers until it was over, and then when it was over, it was over.” At the end of the war, the Dale sailed to Tokyo Bay, making Brewer an eyewitness to both the war’s beginning and end.

After the war, the Dale traveled to San Diego and from there, New York for her decommissioning. Brewer, however, remained in the Navy, being sent to Norfolk temporarily while awaiting transport to his next station in Cuba. His mother wired some money to Norfolk, but no one could find the telegram. Brewer kept returning to the Western Union office until a pretty woman there offered to help by going through all the files.

Vet Spotlight - Gene Brewer and Gooch resized

Eugene Brewer (L) and his friend, Gooch, before he left for Cuba in the spring of 1946.

Brewer not only got the money, he got the girl. They dated a few times before he left Virginia. Once in Cuba, he wrote and asked her to marry him. He and wife Florence will celebrate their 67th anniversary in April. During their stay in Cuba, Gene also found another love: golf. “He played very, very well,” says his son Joe. He was a three-handicap golfer.

The Brewers lived on various naval bases for the next 14 years while Gene continued his military career, including service in the Korean Conflict. “After Pearl Harbor, I thought we were going to have peace for a while, and then Korea broke out.”

After Gene left for Korea, Florence had to get from Norfolk to San Diego. She had a car but didn’t drive at that point. She advertised in the paper and found an older woman who wanted to visit family and a sailor who could drive, and the three of them traveled across the country together.

In 1957, the Brewers returned to Norfolk, and this time they stayed. They settled in the area with their two children, first in Virginia Beach and then in Chesapeake. Gene retired with the rank of chief in 1960 and went to work for the base police force for another 23 years. Florence also got into police work as a store detective watching for shoplifters at Little Creek’s Navy Exchange.

Now age 91, Brewer and his wife live in the Signature at West Neck, near their children Joe, of the Hickory area, and Sue Torbert, of the Tunbridge Station area. He’s just a wonderful man who worked hard all his life,” says Joe. “My sister and I are blessed to have a dad like that.”

Indeed, all of America has been blessed by Eugene Brewer’s service and sacrifice for our country.

Chief Eugene Brewer – The Citizen of Chesapeake salutes you and thanks you for your service to our nation.

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