Emil Brase, 98, joined the United States Navy toward the end of World War II and helped sweep mines in the Sea of Japan and other waters in the Pacific, destroying 250 to 300 mines a day.
Brase was drafted when the United States was preparing for a potential invasion of Japan, and a final push to end the war. Brase was 24 at the time, and he had used a deferment to continue helping his father working at his family farm.
“I was up in St. Louis, and I was going to be drafted into the Army,” Brase said. “Low and behold, some little guy came in with a bunch of papers. Everybody stopped and the doctors quit their examinations. He made an announcement that they had places for three people to be in the Navy, and he asked for volunteers. I was right beside him, so I said, ‘I’ll go.’”
Before joining the Navy, Brase did not know how to swim. During his boot camp, he could only swim half of the course before he was passed. He also found himself sea sick when he first traveled in a Navy ship.
“I got so sick that first time out, I thought I’d die,” Brase said. “I never got used to sea water.”
He left the continental U.S. on the USS Biloxi from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Brase was one of the oldest people in his platoon, while most were under 20 years old. At the time, he was already married, had gone to college for two years and had taught for two years. Brase believes his college education was why he was chosen to be a radar operator.
“The first morning [in Pearl Harbor], I was assigned a paint-chipping job to do along the hull of the ship,” Brase said. “I was hanging down there on the side of the ship chipping paint, and an officer came around. He asked if I’d be willing to go to radar school.”
He attended classes at Pearl Harbor to learn to read and operate radar equipment for around 14 weeks, before being sent to the Sea of Japan to sweep for mines.
“When you were a radar operator, you were excused from all deck duty and duty in the kitchen and so forth,” Brase said. “It was seen as an honorable job.”
Brase would watch the radar and look for anything to come up. He said on his ship, the Henry Wally, there were 13 radar operators. While at sea, they would take four hour shifts and then be off for about six hours before going back to operating the radar. Seven radar operators would work at a time, looking for mines, other ships and planes above.
“We had to sit there and look at the scopes go around and record it and put it on the board for the officers in charge to make the decisions they need to make,” Brase said. “Now it’s all electronically done, it’s not a position anymore.”
After they found a mine, the officers would send three small boats to go cut the lines. The mines would then float up to the surface and would be shot and detonated. Brase said traveling in the Sea of Japan was very dangerous while the war was still going.
“It was loaded with mines,” Brase said. “You couldn’t have gotten in there if you didn’t know where you were going. If you knew the route, you could get through — but if you didn’t know the latitude and longitude of the path, you would have never got in there. I don’t think anything got through there.”
Japan gave their maps showing where they placed the mines to the United States military, and they showed the different depths of each mine. Brase said before they had the maps, the depth would not be detected by radar, and it would be a guessing game.
“Once in a while, one of them would get loose,” Brase said. “I picked up a mine one morning. I guess we cut it loose; it was just drifting along the side [of the ship], and I was on the radar and picked up on the port side a little blip. I kept reporting it and was told, ‘There’s nothing there.’ They got a crew on the deck to go out, and finally they spied it. We pulled over and they shot it with a rifle and exploded it.”
Brase said they would take three of four passes through the minefield each day and would pull closer to the shore during the night. He spent 16 months in service, with four of those being before the war ended.
After clearing the Sea of Japan, they searched the Chinese coast for mines, and they even stayed in Shanghai for Christmas.
“My duty was real good,” Brase said “You couldn’t ask for it any better.”
When he returned to Missouri, Brase taught elementary education and coached basketball at Delta and Jackson. He moved to Jackson because his wife, Evelyn, was already teaching in Jackson. He taught for 44 years and coached for 15.
Around 1988, Brase served as the first post commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Jackson.
“They didn’t have a VFW post here in Jackson, and a couple guys from Charleston came up here and wanted to help us establish a new post here. We had a couple meetings then and we had big crowds.”
Brase said he didn’t know what he was doing when the VFW post was established.
“They had an election then, and it came between me and Poe Curry,” Brase said. “He was a big American Legion guy. There was a run off between us and they elected me. I was teaching school here, and I just tried my best.”
Brase said they met in three different places over the first year. He said that despite that challenge, the post was able to undertake a few projects during his time as post commander, including creating the Brookside Memorial. The post also received a statewide honor for starting a new post with more than 100 members.
Brase is currently the chaplain of the post, but doesn’t know if he will continue in the position, due to his worsening eyesight. Brase will be 99 years old in February.