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George Mendonsa glanced up toward the smokestack of the USS The Sullivans -- the stack with the pair of dice showing "lucky 7" painted on it -- and recalled seeing Japanese fighter planes diving into the sea, victims of the Sullivan's guns.

"I only have good memories" he said of his more than two years on the destroyer.

That's a good memory?

"That's right," he replied. "It was a great feeling to see them splash. They were trying to kill us."

Other veterans of the ship, that now sits decommissioned at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Servicemen's Park, also said Tuesday that the bad times -- the horror of war, the hardships, the separation from loved ones -- somehow have mercifully faded from memory and mostly what remains is the feeling of comradery from going through an unbelievable experience with other men.

About 150 people -- former crew and family members -- are in town for a reunion of the USS The Sullivans Association, which takes place every two years and has been in Buffalo several times.

Mendonsa is a celebrity among the shipmates: he was the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, Aug. 14, 1945, in the famous Life magazine photograph.

While there is some dispute over the identity of the sailor, Mendonsa, now 76, says he can document it.

He said Tuesday that as a young sailor, he always had "a thing" about nurses, having observed their wonderful work during the war.

That -- and possibly the fact he had visited a few bars -- caused him to grab the woman and kiss her.

"If she hadn't been a nurse, that scene would never have happened," he said. A woman looking on in the picture now is his wife.

Lou Paris served with Mendonsa, and they remain good friends. He said that even back then, crew members felt there was something special about serving on a ship named for the five Sullivan brothers killed on Nov. 13, 1942, when the USS Juneau was sunk.

"You'd yell, 'Hey, Sully' and 26 guys would turn around. That's how many Sullivans there were on that ship."

Paris turned down a basketball scholarship to join the Navy when he was 17.

"If my father had known about the scholarship, he would have killed me," he said with a laugh.

After the Sullivan brothers' tragedy, the Armed Forces adopted a policy of not letting family members serve together, so with their parents deceased, Cecil Marks had to sign a waiver before the Navy would allow his brother, Fred, to join him on the ship in 1954.

Standing in the narrow confines below decks, they pointed out where their bunks where.

It was Fred's first time back to the ship.

"It brings back a lot of memories, good memories," the Oklahoma City, Okla., resident said. "You remember the great guys who always stuck together."

Cecil Marks served on the Sullivans for four years, including during the Korean War.

He recalled Christmas Day 1952 when the ship was off the coast of North Korea and a Chinese artillery battery opened up.

One shell exploded near the stern and shrapnel struck the ship, but no one was hurt.

"We got out of there real fast," he said.

Yeah, they think back fondly now, but Leo Warring, the last captain of The Sullivans before it was decommissioned in 1965, said he can remember that crew members found plenty to complain about at the time.

"Our memories are selective," he said. "A lot of them couldn't wait to get off the ship.

"But I served on nine different ships, and there are special memories attached to this one and it felt special even at the time."

As Cecil Marks put it: "I'm glad they didn't make razor blades out of her."

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