"Where the Fleet Goes,
We've Been"

“A people who do not honor the deeds of their worthy dead will do nothing worthy of being honored by their descendants.” - Macaulay

V.C. "Waxie" Blackford (April 26, 1914-Aug. 19, 2002)

V. C. Blackford, known to family and friends as “Waxie,” but nicknamed “Blackie” during his Navy days, was born April 26, 1914, in Fountain County Indiana to Ariel and Erma Westfall Blackford. He graduated from Waynetown (Indiana) High School in 1932, where he had played baseball and basketball. After high school he played semi-pro basketball for a team in Crawfordsville, Indiana,and he served many years as a basketball referee. He married his high school sweetheart June DeMoss in 1937. Waxie worked at the local grain mill, then he and his best friend, Charles Wilkinson, purchased a farm together.

When World War II began, the local draft board was willing to exempt one of the partner farmers, since farming was a necessary domestic industry. Waxie and June wanted children very much but did not yet have any; however, Charles and his wife had a small daughter. So Waxie said to his friend: “You are an only son, and you have a child. You stay home, and I will go to the military.” Waxie volunteered for the Navy because he said that he didn’t want to be a foot soldier. He said that he figured he would have regular meals and a bed on a ship, unknown luxuries for the infantryman! He sold his share of the farm to Charles, took a “good luck” silver dollar from his father, and went to serve his country. He became a Radioman 2 Class.

On July 9, 1944, Waxie was relaxing on the fantail of the ship, writing a letter to June, when another sailor called to him that there was a problem with the radar. Waxie headed for the radar room when the explosion occurred. He was able to get a life jacket and get into the water, where he observed that the fantail of the ship had, in his words, “rolled up like a window blind.” He was certain that he would have been among the dead if it had not been for the call to the radar room. While in the water he observed another sailor who was struggling to stay afloat, so he gave his life jacket to that man. He said that he didn’t find it difficult to stay afloat even though they waited for some time before rescue, that the salt water made it easier to float. His main regret was that casualties did occur and that he lost his letters from his wife and mother and his good luck silver dollar from his dad.

Back in Indiana, Waxie’s mother Erma got up that morning and told her husband: “Something has happened with Waxie. He’s all right, and he’s coming home, and he won’t go back.” Her husband argued with her: “Mom, that can’t be right. The war’s a long way from over; Waxie can’t be coming home.” Erma insisted that she had dreamed this and it would happen, and she told the customers who came in to purchase ice that day from their home business. Probably many of those customers were shaking their heads over Erma Blackford’s mental state!

A day or two later June was informed by the government of the sinking of the ship and that her husband would be returning to the United States. After the families were notified, the news of the sinking of the Swerve was on the radio. Waxie’s teenaged sister Ruth reports that even though the family knew that Waxie was safe, hearing the official news on the radio made her feel rather nauseous.
As his mother predicted, Waxie was sent home and was posted to Navy Pier in Chicago for training as an electrician. Then, in a bizarre twist, he nearly died because he developed a severe case of scarlet fever. He was very seriously ill, but fortunately survived.

The war ended at last, and Waxie returned home, as did his younger brother Bill, who at war’s end was stationed in California as a member of the United States Army waiting to take part inthe invasion of Japan. Because of the sinking of the Swerve, Waxie missed D-Day. The use of the atomic bomb spared Bill service in Japan. Ariel and Erma Blackford were very grateful to have their sons home safe—not everyone in Waynetown was so fortunate.Their oldest son,Charles, did not serve since he was a valued employee of Bell Telephone, a necessary domestic industry.

After the war, Waxie and June pursued adoption as a way to build their family, and they brought home a newborn son, Robert, in 1947, then a three-year-old daughter Ann a few years later. Waxie worked some in farming, used his electrician training in work at a local factory, and worked many years as a rural mail carrier. For several years he raised acres of strawberries, his favorite fruit. Many local youngsters picked strawberries for Waxie Blackford as their first paid job, and Waynetown people were eager to purchase his strawberries each year. He was an active member of the Masonic Lodge and the American Legion, and he served for many years as a high school Sunday School teacher at the Waynetown Methodist Church. In the 1950s, his little hometown decided to build a swimming pool, using mostly volunteer talent. Waxie’s electrician training and general building skills were instrumental in creating an excellent facility that served Waynetown residents and others in that part of rural Indiana.

During World War II, Waxie’s wife, parents, friends, and siblings were praying for his safe return from the war. After the war, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces,nephews, Sunday School students, and other young neighbors and friends gave great thanks that Waxie had survived, because he was an incredibly positive human being and role model. As a great-nephew whose middle name is Waxie once said: “Uncle Waxie is the kind of person you want to live to be at least a hundred."

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Waxie enjoyed remarkably good health and was quite active in his community until the year he turned 88. His sister Ruth was planning a 65th anniversary party for him and June on June 19, 2002. A few days before the party, Waxie suffered a TIA (Transient ischemic attack) while driving and had a nasty wreck. Both he and June were injured. Both survived, but Waxie’s days of good health were obviously over. He passed away Aug. 19, 2002. His loved ones still miss him, but we have to give thanks that he was spared on July 9, 1944. His widow June will be 97 years old on June 16, 2012.

Submitted by Linn Donnelly Ball, Waxie’s niece, daughter of his sister Ruth.


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