‘Luck of the draw’

Malibu resident and war veteran Wayne Estill recalls his service during some of the most intense battles of the Pacific Theatre, and remembers those who were less fortunate than he.

Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

Longtime Malibu resident and World War II veteran Wayne Estill feels lucky to be alive. He served three years in the U.S. Navy, two of them during World II. He served as an Electrician’s Mate, second class specialist in intercommunication aboard the USS Nassau. It was an escort aircraft carrier, a small ship that served various purposes, including transporting planes and equipment. They were known as CVEs, with a dark joke being that CVEs stood for “Combustible, Vulnerable and Expendable” because, among other reasons, they lacked the significant armor to withstand an attack.

“Every guy was aware that this ship would never survive a torpedo attack,” said Estill, now 85, at his Malibu West home. “It was one of those things you put in the back in your mind. You’re aware of it, but it’s not anything you dwell on. Because there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

For no other reason but the “luck of the draw,” Estill said, the Nassau was never attacked. This was despite the fact that he was aboard the ship during the final months of World War II’s Pacific Theatre as it moved through various “hostile war zones,” including the Battle of Okinawa. But somehow it made it through cleanly each time.

“I feel fortunate to have survived this thing,” Estill said.

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Many Americans were not so fortunate. More than 400,000 people from this country lost their lives in World War II as they fought against the imperialist ambitions of the Axis Powers led by Nazi Germany and Japan. Estill said it is important to remember and honor those people as well as the many others who have died in wars.

“I’m glad there is a Memorial Day,” Estill said. “They talk about Veterans Day. That to me is almost more of a celebrity because they’re always praised, which they should be. But Memorial Day is excellent to remind the general public that we’ve been in wars. We are where we are because of the guys that fought. And I think it’s very important that we continue this.”

He continued, “I’m disappointed that more people don’t seem to realize it. It seems like each successive generation has been less involved in it and more removed from it.” Estill said one of the ways to reverse this trend is to embrace the importance of teaching children about history and make it so they enjoy history by improving the way it is taught.

Estill’s war story began like it did for many other Americans on Dec. 7, 1941 when Japanese forces attacked the American Naval base at Pearl Harbor. The Northern California native, who was at the time living in the Highland Park section of the City of Los Angeles, learned about the attack on his way home from church.

“A friend came out of her house shouting ‘Pearl Harbor’s been bombed, Pearl Harbor’s been bombed,’” he said. “Well, none of us knew what Pearl Harbor was. I’d never been out of California. Things were more insular in that time. Few people travelled. You were where you were. And I was in California at that time.”

Only 16 at the time, Estill had to wait another year and a half to enter the military. In July 1943, his time came, and he chose the Navy due to family tradition. For a little more than a year, Estill crisscrossed the nation to go through schooling and training. Then in the fall of 1944, he came to Pearl Harbor, where he waited for his ship assignment. And within a few months he was aboard the Nassau.

By this time, the outcome of the war in terms of who would win was no longer in doubt. It was a matter of when Japan would surrender. In the spring and summer of 1945, the Nassau delivered items to various points near Japan. Fighting was still intense, with high casualty battles taking place. Estill said it was clear they were getting ready for an invasion, one that never occurred.

The Japanese surrendered on Aug. 10 (it was announced to the public four days later) at the conclusion of an intense five-day period. On Aug. 6, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 80,000 people. Despite the urging of Emperor Hirohito to surrender, the Japanese War Council refused. On Aug. 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Japanese-ruled Manchuria in China. The next day, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing more than 60,000. The Japanese War Council finally agreed to surrender, although some of its members were against it, with one committing suicide rather than witness the defeat.

“The number of people who were killed by the Hiroshima bomb, that’s nothing compared to what we would have lost with an invasion,” said Estill, noting that the Japanese had promised to fight to the last person, including children. “Truman made one of the smartest decisions one could make.”

After the war, Estill remained on the Nassau for another year. With the G.I. Bill, he could afford his education at Stanford University, where he earned a degree in geophysics. He soon began a career in geology, a field in which he still works today.

Wayne and his wife, Beverly, met at a community theater. Together they have five children and nine grandchildren. Malibu residents for more than 40 years, the couple has been active in the city, including the local Republican club and the Lions Club, among others.

“It’s been a great life,” Estill said. “It’s been fun.”

With regards to his Navy service, he said, “I’m very much a patriot. And I think this is the greatest nation ever conceived. And I don’t begrudge my three years I put into the Navy. They’re fantastic. It’s one of the highlights of my life. I’m proud to have been part of the Navy. It was fun. It was scary.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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