At 98, Veteran Vic has no regrets

Suzette Lowe
Vic Yoak poses with his Navy photograph that is carried on a poster in each Ripley Veterans Day Parade.

Vic Yoak’s decision to enter the military in 1942 was the result of a casual conversation with a high school buddy.

“We were eating lunch that January,” Yoak recalled. “My buddy, Bernard Brady, said ‘Why don’t we join the Navy?’ He left the very next day, but I got cold feet and didn’t join until October.”

Yoak, now 98, was born and raised in Shock, West Virginia in Gilmer County. Deciding to leave Normantown High School before graduating, he joined his brother, Lloyd Jr., in Akron.

The young West Virginian knew his skill set when it came to jobs. His first at the Garden Grill as a busboy wasn’t for him and he didn’t go back after the first day

By the time he came back to lay brick for the city of Charleston, he was ready to join the United States Navy.

“My dad encouraged me to enlist,” he said. “He was drafted in World War I but it ended before he had to serve.”

After enlisting, he was sent to Norfolk, Virginia for his three-week induction.

“Oh my, that was a different life than I was used to,” Yoak said. “They’d get you up at 4 a.m. in the morning and run you around the block. I got to go home on furlough, and it was real tempting not to go back.”

The Navy first wanted him to be a gunner and Yoak thought that’s what he wanted to do as well.

“I soon changed my mind,” he said laughing. “I’d never heard a gun louder than a shotgun. When they had me setting the sites on those big guns and they fired all at once, I thought the ship had sunk.”

Just as the busboy job, Yoak said he knew this job wasn’t for him.

After informing his commanding officer, he was given the opportunity to serve as a storekeeper on the USS Monrovia when it first went into service.

“I was 20 years old and on a flagship,” he said. “It was used to carry officers, troops, and supplies. The storekeepers were kept very busy all the time.”

For a young man who had seldom been out of West Virginia, the world was opened to him.

“I sailed two-thirds around the world,” Yoak said, still in awe. “And I had access to all the food on the ship.”

The place that made the strongest impression on him was Wellington, New Zealand.

“It was a lot like West Virginia,” Yoak said. “There was big dairy farming there. I was told to fill up our freezers and refrigerators with all the dairy products we could handle. A lot of that was ice cream.”

At one point, there wasn’t enough for the 600 men on board, so he invited a few buddies to share and they ate it all.

“I’m not too fond of ice cream anymore,” he said.

Even as a storekeeper, Yoak had duties whenever the call to battle was heard.

“We were attacked mostly by German airstrikes,” he said. “My job was to be the site setter I trained for in the beginning. We were part of the 3rd fleet, so we were protected by other battleships. We never had any deaths and only one casualty as I recall.”

During its time at sea, the Monrovia transported many officers to various destinations.

“We had General (Dwight D.) Eisenhower and General (George) Patton on board at times,” Yoak said. “It didn’t mean anything to me though. I just kept doing my job.”

One memory that does mean something to Petty Officer 3rd Class Yoak was crossing the equator.

“Oh my, I couldn’t forget that,” he said with a big smile. “You were initiated if it was your first time crossing over. They did a lot of things to you. Two I can share are getting soap poured in your mouth and getting doused with a water hose.”

He also recalls where he was when the war ended.

“I was in the Philippines getting set to go to Japan,” he said. “That was one happy bunch of people. We were more than ready to go home.”

Yoak said after being discharged on Oct. 24, 1945, he headed back to the family farm. While there were no parades and celebrations, he described the feeling of just being home as the best in the world. He checked in with all the neighbors and headed back to Akron to work with his brother.

“Nothing would do him but for me to come up there and work,” he said. “I was hired by Goodyear and that Thanksgiving I came home and decided to take a little extra time off, but I didn’t tell my employer. I was lucky to have a job when I got back.”

During that time, he also married the love of his life, Ruth Bennington, and they raised three children.

“I knew her before the war,” Yoak said, with a twinkle in his eye. “But that’s another story.”

After leaving Akron, the Yoaks moved to Roane County where he went into the trucking business with the Burke-Parsons-Bowlby Corporation. Eventually, he was hired by the West Virginia State Department of Highways holding various positions in the terms of Governor Arch Moore. He retired as the Roane County Highway Maintenance Supervisor.

Moving to Jackson County in 1977 was the best decision he ever made, Yoak said.

“I love the people here,” he said. “There’s a closeness and friendliness.”

Continuing his public service, Yoak was appointed to Ripley City Council in 1998 by Mayor Ollie Harvey. He was elected in 2001 and reelected for many more years, finally ending in 2007.

“It was really interesting,” he said. “but I never understood why we couldn’t get Fairplain annexed. I always worked on getting that done.”

Yoak has been part of every Ripley Veterans Day Parade since 2008. Asked if he had any regrets in his life, he said simply, “I can’t think of a one.”

Serving in the Navy was a choice he was glad he made.

“I was scared a lot of times and I wanted to come home,” he said. “but when you join the Navy, that promise of seeing the world sure is kept.”

As for life today for this patriotic member of “the greatest generation,” Yoak says it’s good.

“I read my Bible and mow my yard,” he said. “I’m not much of a cook so the Ripley Senior Center brings me meals three times a week. I guess God just isn’t finished with me yet.”