Byron Nelson with his wife

Byron Nelson

World War II veteran recalls valuable lessons learned in Navy

By Mary Kay Gominger

Navy veteran Byron Dennis has a long association with the military. Born and raised in the South, his great grandfather served in the Civil War in 1862-65. His dad served in the Navy until 1911 and a brother served in the Navy in WWII. On Nov. 12, 1941, 17 year old Byron, feeling adventuresome and dreaming of better things and faraway places, went to the recruiting station in New Orleans, having moved there from his hometown of Mobile, Ala., and joined the Navy. He was out in San Diego when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and within a few days his adventures began and he found himself aboard the U.S.S. Flusser (DD368) heading to Hawaii to assist with the assessment and recovery of that devastated area. He arrived in Pearl Harbor on January 10, 1942. It was then, Byron said, that the business of growing up began.

“I was a dumb kid when I joined the Navy,” Byron said. “I didn’t have a clue about how to work and make a living. I didn’t even know where to begin.” All that changed over the next three and a half years.

On the U.S.S. Flusser, Byron was initially a Sonarman, then a Quartermaster. At the helm, he said, he had the best seat in the house to watch air raids. He saw some harrowing suicide planes, a couple he narrowly escaped. His appendix was removed while lying on the officers’ mess table by someone who had never performed surgery before.

His time in the Navy was cut short by fractures to his back while responding to a suicide plane attack in the Philippines. He was transferred to the hospital ship U.S.S. Refuge and from there to the base hospital on Manus Island. After some time there, he was transferred to the Naval Hospital at San Diego and was told to go home on July 18, 1945.

“I will always be grateful to the Navy for all it taught me,” Byron said. “That was where I learned the meaning of the words work and discipline. I feel privileged to have served on one of the luckiest ships in the Navy. I am thankful for the friends I developed during those years, 1941 – 1945.”

Byron decided to join fellow veterans at the AFRH-G in 2001. He had heard good things about the place and, upon the death of his wife of 52 years, decided it was a good time to check it out. That decision, it turns out, was one that would change the rest of his life. Several months after checking in, Byron met Navy Wave Bettylu, another new resident, and the rest, as they say, is history. Byron and Bettylu were married on May 15, 2004.

“I never thought that at this point in my life I would meet such a wonderful lady,” Byron said. “ She’s my best friend and now I cannot imagine life without her.” His advice to others is this: “Be open to life. Get out and meet people. Keep smiling. Tomorrow may be the most exciting day of your life.”