You seldom get the opportunity to meet a genuine American hero. David Becker is one of those select few individuals whose miraculous story merits the highest honor and respect bestowed on an individual.
Becker, 91, lives in Carrollton, where he was born and raised. He still lives independently and drives his own car. He walks three miles a day for exercise and takes his dog Jessie with him everywhere he goes.
In 1944 at the age of 23, Becker was drafted into the Navy and deployed on the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill in the Pacific theater. His ship saw some of the war’s most severe fighting.
On May 11, 1945, the ship was hit by two Japanese kamikaze planes, each carrying 500-pound bombs.
“They came in behind a group of our own planes that were returning to the ship,” Becker explains. “Our radar could not tell the enemy’s planes from our own.”
373 crewmen were killed and another 264 injured with 19 additional missing.
“It was bad,” he says.
When asked if he was scared, Becker shrugs and says, “You’re 2,000 miles away from home on a ship in the middle of the ocean. You do what you have to do.”
Becker tells of a remarkable story within this story. He explains he was originally stationed at a gun on the fan tail of the ship. The day before the attack, a commanding officer noted the diligence with which he performed his duties and brought him up to work on a higher level of the ship.
One of the kamikaze planes attacking the ship the following day hit at the exact location where Becker had previously been stationed.
“If that officer had not moved me the day before, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” he says.
It took 80 days for the ship and crew to make their way back to Washington state for repairs.
“We had no steering gear left,” Becker explains. “Accompanying destroyers had to nudge the ship to turn it.”
Among the many parts of the ship destroyed during the attack was the galley.
“We had nothing to eat except rice for 80 days while we returned,” he says.
The crew managed against all odds to return the ship to port. Becker was honorably discharged the following year at the rank of seaman first class.
Becker’s civilian career included 37 years at the CIPS electrical company, now Ameren. He notes in those days they did not have bucket trucks, so he had to climb poles with hooks. He also says they dug the 5-foot holes required for placing the electrical poles by hand.
On Tuesday, June 23, Becker was honored by participating in the Veterans Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Accompanied by his son Tom Becker, he toured memorial sites in the nation’s capital along with a group of other World War II veterans.
“It was just great,” he says. “Everything was unbelievable.” He says it was a full day but one he will remember forever.
At the airport preparing to return home, he received 53 letters during the mail call. The letters were from children and adults in the community thanking him for his service. His son notes crowds stood and applauded the veterans wherever they went.
On this Independence Day, the nation owes an incalculable debt to those whose service has kept this nation free. David Becker’s actions place him among the greatest of those individuals.