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Gunners, Submarines, and Cherry Bombs: WWII Veteran Clarence “Korky” Korker Shares His Experience

Tania Ortega-Cowan

Saturday is the 4th of July. And while we won’t be celebrating with big fireworks and crowds this year, there’s plenty to reflect upon. We called up Fellsmere resident and World War II veteran Korky Korker for some patriotic inspiration.

CK: My name is Clarence Korker – of course everybody calls me Korky. So that’s a nickname that’s stuck with me for years. I’m 95 years old now.

Korker served with the US Navy Armed Guard throughout World War II.

CK: I enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and they took me in ’43.

They defended U.S. and Allied merchant ships carrying all of the supplies our troops needed overseas fighting in the war.

CK: Food and guns and ammunition to these people over there otherwise we would have lost the war.

Korker’s first assignment was as a gunner.

CK: The US Navy had gunners on all the merchant ships during WWII. Because the merchant ships were all run by civilians. And they were getting torpedoed and aircraft were shooting at them, and they were losing an awful lot of ships.

So the gunners defended the merchant ships.

CK: Back in ’42 we were losing ships right off the whole coast – all the way up and down the coast here from New York all the way down to the Caribbean because the Germans had submarines right off our coast.

Not long after he started, Korker had blood poisoning.

CK: So they took me off of gun crew and put me in an officer’s ward room where I heard the captain say that they’re going to put a photo lab on the base, and, um, I told them I could do the job. So he said if you can prove yourself, if you can do the job, you got it. And I did. I stayed there all through the war and I was public relations photographer for US Navy Armed Guard during WWII. We were stationed in Brooklyn.

He made commercial photography his profession for almost 50 years before he retired. And in retirement?

CK: I’m still taking pictures, yes.

Several years ago, Korker and a group of veterans opened a US Navy Armed Guard WWII Veterans Museum in Fellsmere, and recently moved it to the Indian River Mall in Vero Beach to keep costs down.

CK: We opened that up on the 6th of March and then we had to close it down on the 9th or the 10th because of the coronavirus.

Now that the Mall is open again, a new challenge is getting volunteers in to run it.

CK: A lot of our volunteers are older men and they’re afraid to get into there. Because they’re afraid of the coronavirus

He looks forward to when they can resume their monthly breakfast meetings at Marsh Landing restaurant in Fellsmere.

CK: I don’t know when we’re going to get started again – we’re just gonna have to see but we have veterans from all different wars in our group now. They seem to come to us as a guest of something and they like our meetings so they continue coming.

We ask what 4th of July experience he remembers most. He says it was 1937, when he was 12. He got hold of some cherry bomb fireworks. By the way, cherry bombs were banned in 1966 because they are so explosive.

CK: So, my cousin Ralph and Hayward and I – the three of us said let’s take some of these cherry bombs and wire them together so we tied them all together. We lit the fuse and we put them in Aunt Bertha’s mailbox. Boy, did we blow that thing to hell! I really got in trouble.

(music is The Girl Who Loves A Soldier by Lew Stone)

Learn more about the US Navy Armed Guard WWII Veterans Museum by visiting their storefront at the Indian River Mall in Vero Beach or by mail at PO Box 691092 VB 32969

Learn more about the US Navy Armed Guard nationally, visit https://www.armed-guard.com/