An inch and a half of steel was the difference between life and death for Ivory Robinson.
It was a cloudy Wednesday aboard the USS Saratoga on Feb. 21, 1945. Robinson spent the morning with his fellow sailors listening to Tokyo Rose, a Japanese propaganda broadcaster during World War II.
“She was pretty much a joke,” Robinson said. “Nothing ever happened like what she said. We were close to Guam one time and she said, 'We are sending out 200 airplanes today to sink the Saratoga.'
“We never saw them.”
Robinson doesn't remember hearing any broadcast threats Feb. 21. If there were, it would have been the first time Tokyo Rose wasn't crying wolf.
The Saratoga was hit by bombs and kamikaze pilots that day, igniting a fire in the aircraft carrier's hangar bay, wrecking the flight deck and leaving gaping holes on the ship's starboard side where Robinson was stationed.
One plane crashed less than 100 feet away from Robinson, who was below deck near the boilers.
“All that saved me is bulkhead,” Robinson said. “They all died on the other side; about a dozen of them.”
Robinson, 85, lives at Bonaventure Senior Living on the West End with his wife, Florence. They moved there in July.
Soon after moving in, he found out residents can't go far without running into another World War II veteran.
Fred Lund is one of them. He enlisted in the Navy and went to boot camp in Farragut, Idaho, with Robinson.
“I never knew that he was alive,” Robinson said. “I thought they had all died except me until I came here.”
Robinson ran into Lund's wife the first few weeks after they moved in. When he stopped by to visit, it had been 66 years since he last saw Lund.
Jack Kornegay, Robinson's neighbor, had a similar experience after moving into Bonaventure.
Kornegay flew B-17s in WWII. He was part of the 306th Bombardment Group stationed in Thurleigh, England.
His longest flight was during a bomb strike east of Berlin. He was in the air for 11 hours and 20 minutes carrying 12 500-pound bombs. It was April 5, 1945.
“We were briefed before each mission,” Kornegay said. “They told us there was a prison camp in that area. So when we got down there, I just happened to look down and there was a prison camp right ahead of me with 'POW' on the roof.”
The pilots were sure to stay clear of prison camp because some of the prisoners were bound to be their comrades. Bonaventure resident Lynn Jones was among them.
Jones, a turret gunner, was captured after his plane was shot down on June 23, 1943, in Holland. He and the rest of the crew had to bail out of the plane. Three didn't make it.
Jones almost didn't either.
“The air was full of parachutes, and I was the first on the ground because my parachute didn't open like the others,” Jones said. “It was straight up and down. I looked up and knew something was wrong.”
Jones pulled at his shroud line, which opened the rest of his chute.
“I landed in the one tree within a mile any direction,” Jones said. “I was surrounded by what I thought were Germans, but it turned out to be peasants from Holland.”
The farmers told the men to stay put, so Jones hid in a barley field until dark.
By nightfall, a farmer came back and led him to a barn where he met up with his fellow crew members. They thought they were safe, until German troops came and took them to a prisoner-of-war camp.
He was there until the end of the war, excluding a stint of two weeks when he escaped.
He was only able to travel at night and followed the Danube River toward France, staying in hay lofts and abandoned sheds.
“It was the roughest two weeks in my life, I know that,” Jones said. “When you are young like that, you don't sometimes make the best decisions, but nothing is better than wanting your freedom.”
The freedom didn't last. He was recaptured and taken to Amsterdam for trial, and later taken back to the prison camp.
He was placed in solitary confinement.
“There was a little tiny window at the top you could just barely see out of if you stand your tiptoes,” Jones said. “That was the punishment.”
The food was another punishment.
“You better learn how to love turnip,” Jones said. “You got down to the bottom of the barrel when they brought it in there and there was a skull from a horse's head and a horse shoe. What we said is that was where the vitamins were.”
It wasn't until last week that Jones found out that Kornegay flew over him during the war.
“He was telling me that he was in a prison camp east of Munich, and I remember flying over that camp,” Kornegay said. “I didn't know he was in it at the time.”
The men keep in touch, reflecting on each other's stories. Bonaventure resident Vance Holbrook has a tale of his own.
A member of the Third Infantry Division, Holbrook made five landings in five countries during his 4½ years enlisted in the military.
“We were the first troops to get to Rome, to enter the city of Rome from the south side,” Holbrook said, who also landed in North Africa, France and Italy.
Holbrook enlisted in 1940, hoping to put in his year's worth of service and be let out.
“I only had a couple more months to go when they decided to bomb Pearl Harbor,” Holbrook said.
Contact Chelsea Krotzer at email@example.com or 657-1392.