For someone born and raised in Clarendon, Shanghai, China must have seemed like another world.
But, for Robert Youngquist, it was part of his call to duty.
Youngquist, now 94, was a seaman first class repairman on the USS Sierra, a destroyer tender that served throughout the Pacific Theatre during World War II.
Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton
The USS Sierra’s history book outlining their service during World War II.
But he probably shouldn't have had to go at all.
Youngquist was born in Clarendon and had seven siblings, including a twin brother.
"I went to Clarendon School," he explained. "I went as far as eighth grade as far as I can remember."
He fondly recalled running around Clarendon with his twin. He said people would say "there go the Youngquist twins down the street," he said with a chuckle. "We were pretty well known. We were always good."
"I never smoke or drank," he explained. "My dad was quite a drinker. Not that I was perfect, but I never smoked or drank. I never caught onto it. I think (his father) turned me against it. No doubt about it. (I) can be thankful, I guess."
Youngquist was also thankful for his wife, Lorraine, who he married on September 14, 1940. "She was a wonderful woman," he said, "a very nice girl." Recalling her red hair, "I used to call her Red Lorraine," he joked.
With the birth of their second child in May 1944, a child who was actually born with significant medical issues, the war must have been the farthest thing from his mind.
But just days after the birth of his second son, Youngquist's draft number was drawn.
He entered the service in the Navy on May 27, 1944.
"I had to go," he said succinctly. "I had a family. It was pretty darn hard to leave but you had to do it."
And he was aware of the risks that came along with service, even if the Navy would keep him out of the foxholes of France or the beaches of islands in the South Pacific.
"I was kinda worried about it, you know," he said. "When it happened... worried about where I am going to go, where I am going to end up."
Youngquist then shipped out for training at the US Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland.
There, he was confronted with what was ultimately his most fearful time in the service.
"There was one time, they tested our ability," he said. "They slammed the latches. (I was) there all alone.. 'Oh my God, what if they forget about me? I'm going to suffer and die.'"
But, he calmly stated, "I made it through ok."
"That was scary, my God, just thinking what would I do if they forget about me."
After training, "I was on the USS Sierra."
According to the ship's history book, "The USS Sierra is a destroyer tender designed to supply all the wants and needs of her brood of destroyers. However, due to the shortage of adequate repair facilities during the strikes on Palau, Leyte, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Japanese homeland, our ship found herself tending not only destroyers but also battleships, cruisers, carriers, minesweepers, every kind of landing craft and even merchant ships."
The brand-new ship arrived at Pearl Harbor on June 13, 1944 and serviced its first ship on June 22. It left the port on Sept. 3 for what turned into a 4,500 mile journey.
Being on the move that much didn't leave Youngquist with much opportunity to hear from home.
He was limited to letters and "not much of that either. We were on the go all the time."
Their first destroyer repair on the move in the Pacific was the USS Lamons in September. "She was the first in the big parade of destroyers and destroyer escorts to receive repairs from the Sierra during our stay in the Admiralties (Islands)," the unit history explains. "At one time, we had 13 ships moored alongside for repairs."
That meant plenty of work for Youngquist, who was an acetylene burner, according to his discharge papers.
And it was good work.
"The ship and the crew were commended by Commander Destroyers, Pacific Fleet, in recognition of the volume and quality of work performed by all departments of the ship in our initial period of operation," the unit book says.
But that doesn't mean that he still wasn't fearful about what could happen to him and what could limit him from making it home.
"You're bound to do that in the war," he said. "I went through a lot of times on the USS Sierra."
In February of 1945, the Sierra moved to the Solomon Islands "for slightly more than three weeks, our repair groups labored on the vast job of patching up LST's, which later participated in the invasion of Okinawa."
After a move in March to the Ulithi Atoll, the ship headed to the Philippines on May 25.
That's where the ship was when the best possible news came the Japanese had surrendered.
"The most momentous news of the entire Pacific war came to our ears on the night of August 10th, when the Japs set out their first 'feelers' for peace," the unit book explains. "It was such thrilling news that we didn't even wait for confirmation. Every ship in the bay cut loose with whistles, sirens, searchlights and pyrotechnics. The band played, and all hands paraded around the boat deck in a victory snake dance."
"I was happy, all of us were," Youngquist recalled. "(We were) glad to get home with our families."
"Our minds turned to thoughts of going home," the unit book says, "but for many of us that day was still six months away."
Youngquist was among that number.
That meant a trip to Korea, and then China. According to the unit history, Shanghai "offered us the best liberty of any port we had visited since leaving the States. The American Red Cross supervised a servicemen's club at the Foreign YMCA, which has a gymnasium, a swimming pool, handball courts and bowling alleys. There was also a soda fountain, where we could buy coffee, pie, sandwiches and 'stateside Cokes' for a nickel."
Then it was finally Youngquist's turn to come home.
He was honorably discharged on January 29, 1946.
"I got out when I could, you know," he said. "I went back to my hometown Clarendon. I was glad to serve my country but it was hard to be away from my family."
And while it has been nearly 70 years, he still remembers the day he got back to Clarendon.
"Oh man, I remember coming back," he said. "They were waiting for us. There were a lot of people waiting for us when we got back."
When asked if his parents were glad to see him home safely, "Oh my God, yes," he said. I remember they were standing... waiting for us. Oh, they were so happy..... Oh my God, yeah, coming back to my family, my wife, Lorraine."
He summed the day up in three words, so brief yet powerful.
"That was good."
After the war, he went to work with PittsburghDes Moines Steel, Co. for 30 years as a burner. Living in Clarendon until his retirement, he and his wife moved for Nokomis, Florida for five or six years.
He was married for 71 years until his wife passed in 2011.
Of his wife and kids, Youngquist said "they've been awfully good."
He also gave some sage advice.
"I never regretted anything I've done," he said. "Try to be good and lead a good life."
And that attitude pervaded his military service.
"I'm glad I served my country," he said. "It was quite a trip. I know that. Oh, my God we were all over the place... but I'm glad I served my country. I never regretted it."
"I was proud to serve."