Bernard “Bernie” Fink, Sr.
Moonshine to Ship Shine
by Priscilla Rall
One of the few remaining WWII Veterans from Thurmont is Bernard “Bernie” Fink, Sr.
Bernie was born in 1923, one of the six children of Margaret Elizabeth and Clarence Fink. Clarence was a tinner who owned a plumbing and heating business. As the oldest son, Bernie often accompanied his father onto Catoctin Mountain to make or repair moonshine stills. Bernie remembers soldering the coils of the stills and recalls the local youngsters washing bottles to be reused for the ‘shine. He has tried “mint gin” and found the dark green drink very palatable.
Growing up during the Great Depression, Bernie saw many hobos “riding the rails,” who would stop by his home where his mother had dishes ready to feed them a meal, often in exchange for repairing umbrellas or sharpening knives. Like many others, the family lost all of their savings with the collapse of the Central Trust Bank, and Bernie lost the $36.00 he had earned delivering newspapers.
At age seventeen, Bernie left school to take over the family business, as his father’s health deteriorated. His “Pap” was a hard taskmaster, no after-school sports for his children. The children had to come home after school to do chores.
In the first years of WWII, Bernie had a deferment because the family business was in charge of the Thurmont Water Works, but he eventually joined the Navy in June 1943. After basic training at Bainbridge, he went to Little Creek, Virginia, for amphibious training.
After training, he was ordered to Pier 92 in New York, where he joined the crew of the LCT 1012 (Landing Craft Tanks) that was loaded on LST 1048 (Landing Craft Troops). It left port with a convoy of ninety-six ships to North Africa. After twenty-nine days, the convoy landed in Bizerte, Tunisia. LCT 1012 was then loaded with five tanks and troops for the invasion of Southern France on August 15. As Bernie’s LCT reached the shores of France, two of the five LCTs hit enemy mines, which “blew everything to pieces.” The action was fast and furious as German shells came in overhead from artillery hidden in the hills above the beaches.
Bernie wondered “Lord, am I going to get out of this?” as he manned the vessel’s only .22-mm gun. His only order was to “point the gun and fire.” It took an excruciating thirty minutes to unload the tanks and men before the LCT was finally able to get off that deadly beach and out of range of the deadly shelling.
Next, the ship went to Marseilles and Naples, where the sailors went on leave. They travelled to Sicily, where Bernie transferred to a ship bound for the states. There, 2nd Class Coxswain Fink boarded the AKA 97, a troop ship that carried a crew of 200 and 1,000 troops. He was in charge of the galley.
Before he headed out to the Pacific, his sweetheart, Mary Ellen Saylor from Motters Station, met him at Newport News, Virginia, and they married on May 10, 1945.
Bernie shipped out on May 11, going through the Panama Canal and then on to Pearl Harbor, where they were greeted with the news that the war was finally over! Bernie spent the next four months ferrying troops from Guam, Saipan, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima to Pearl Harbor for the final leg of the journey home. Bernie remembers being shocked to see Marines accompanied by their war dogs. The crew was never able to leave the ship when it docked, as the government wanted the troops home ASAP.
While Bernie was in the Mediterranean, his mother had a stroke that he only learned of when he returned home in December 1945. Later, when his father died, Bernie bought the plumbing and heating business and continued it until his eyesight deteriorated, forcing him to sell.
Bernie and Mary Ellen raised their four children in the house his father built on the corner of Frederick Road and Howard Street in Thurmont, which was called Late’s Alley after the butcher shop located on the alley next to the old stone jailhouse.
It was an honor to interview Bernie for the Frederick County Veterans History Project and record his service to our community and country.
Bernard “Bernie” Fink, Sr.