Roy Scites, 92, poses with an ancient wood Chinese pistol he uncovered in South Korea in 1946.

Roy Scites, 92, poses with an ancient wood Chinese pistol he uncovered in South Korea in 1946.

Photo by Alex Szwarc


Veteran recalls near-death experiences

By: Alex Szwarc | Warren Weekly | Published November 1, 2019

 Roy Scites, a Warren resident, was drafted into the Army on Aug. 14, 1945, a day before the imperial Japanese forces accepted the terms of unconditional surrender.

Roy Scites, a Warren resident, was drafted into the Army on Aug. 14, 1945, a day before the imperial Japanese forces accepted the terms of unconditional surrender.

Photo provided by Roy Scites

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WARREN — Just as America’s involvement in the Pacific theater was coming to an end in World War II, Roy Scites’ service was only beginning.

For Veterans Day, the Warren Weekly caught up with the 92-year-old resident of Warren to discuss his wartime memories.

Born in West Virginia, Scites was drafted into the Army on Aug. 14, 1945, a day before the imperial Japanese forces accepted the terms of unconditional surrender.    

The son of a coal miner, Scites moved to Michigan at age 12.

He remembers where he was and what the reaction was when the news of the surrender was announced.

“A lady from the Women’s Army Corps came through the train with a newspaper overhead with the headline ‘Japan surrenders,’ dated Aug. 15, 1945. We all screamed our heads off. Thank God the (Japanese) gave up.”

Scites’ first overseas mission as part of the 183rd Ordnance Company was to go to South Korea in the spring of 1946.

The trip across America prior to leaving for Korea was when he was involved in a nerve-wracking experience.

“We got to Salt Lake City, Utah, and the troop train couldn’t take us over a mountain,” he said. “There were around 100 cars loaded with infantrymen, and the train couldn’t pull us up. We had to unhook from the train, and all the cars were hanging on the mountainside. We just came around a big curve. The locomotive unhooked and went to Salt Lake City. They radioed back to a town to send a locomotive behind us. This is where we thought we were going to die, one of the times. The brake wheels were on, so all the cars had their brakes tight. We’re sitting there and hours went by and the locomotive hasn’t come back yet. The cars start creaking. The brakes weren’t holding and the weight of the cars started to pull us down. The locomotive got us back to town.”

Altogether, he was stranded on the side of the mountain overnight.   

Once in Seattle, Scites and the other soldiers boarded a merchant marine ship for the Korean Peninsula. There, Scites set up 5 miles north of Incheon.

“The Army had already taken over a section of Korean territory, and the Japanese surrendered there in 1945,” he said. “There was a big foundry there, which the Japanese used to produce rifles and ammunitions in World War II.”

Scites was sent to the foundry, working as a crane operator in the summer of 1946. The mission was to remove Japanese equipment left over from the war.

“My job was to lower the boom down, and chains would be hooked around the Japanese machinery. The Japanese built a tunnel over 15 feet down and would take welded iron to the base of their machines, and they lowered machines in the pit,” he said.   

As the machine was lifted from the earth, Scites noticed an object that landed on the surface.

Scites said it appeared to be an ancient wood Chinese pistol, used by pirates in the 1600s.

He later had it appraised at an antique shop and found out it was a copy of a pistol made in the 1600s, worth about $100.  

Scites also shared a near-death experience from the ship ride to Korea in 1946 when he was almost washed over the side of the ship.

“One night, it was so hot in the ship I decided to go on the deck,” he recalled. “All of a sudden, dark clouds came over the ship and it went from daylight to night so quick. A squall came up and I’m on the deck all by myself.”

He said a 30-foot wave came over the ship, sweeping him off his feet.

“I went over the side of the ship and raised my left arm up and caught the cable in my arm,” he said. “My body was on the side of the ship and every time a wave came, my body would slam against the side of the ship. I was scared to death and was screaming my head off for help.”

Scites said no one inside the ship knew he was in grave danger.

“Finally, in the storm, I heard a voice say, ‘Raise your right arm.’ My right arm was free, so I raised it. I felt a hand grab me by the wrist, and I can’t figure out who it was.”

Scites said he grabbed a hold and the individual pulled him up by the wrist.

The next morning, the storm broke and Scites thought a message would come across the ship’s public address system about a GI being saved the night before.

“Not a word was mentioned,” he said. “I thought this soldier would’ve told some of the others that he saved me. I was scared to death about what I should say. I never said a word about it.”

Scites was discharged in 1947 and went on to have a career in tool and die, working as a machine operator. He retired in the 1990s.

He married Jane in 1952. The couple had five children, one that died shortly after birth; including 12 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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